Enduring Discovery: Marriage, Parenthood, and Poetry

by Brenda Shaughnessy and Craig Morgan Teicher

The Literary Life

Posted 8.31.12

September/October 2012

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Finding a poet in New York City is like shooting fish in a barrel, but finding one who’s a kindred spirit, a romantic partner, and a writer you truly admire is more like landing Moby Dick in your third-floor Brooklyn walk-up. We probably met four or five times at various poetry venues and milieus—the Poetry Society of America, Columbia University, Poets House, and the venerable poet’s haunt Café Loup—before we ended up talking deeply over the stacks of poetry submissions we were both reading for Tin House magazine and then over dinner. We fell for each other quickly and were married almost two years later.

Shortly thereafter, Craig’s first book, Brenda Is in the Room and Other Poems, won the Colorado Prize for Poetry and was published by the Center for Literary Publishing, and Brenda found—after much anxiety—a publisher for her second book, Human Dark With Sugar (Copper Canyon Press, 2008). Thus feeling sufficiently productive, we decided to reproduce. We were excited for a year of new beginnings, but our lives changed in a completely unexpected way with the birth of our first child. After a healthy pregnancy with no complications, our son suffered a catastrophic brain injury at delivery. This devastated all of us, and changed everything. All those dreams and feelings that new parents generally share were for us replaced by absolute terror and anguish and endless questions.

Cal had a radically nontypical infancy, and in our impassioned new role as parents we learned how to be tougher than we ever thought possible, because our son needed us to be. We were thrust into a complex world of therapies, specialists, and medicines, but it was the uncertainty that would keep us up at night. The only thing we knew for sure about Cal was that we were utterly crazy about him. We adore him. He’s our hero. Our beautiful, amazing boy is now five years old and he has severe cerebral palsy. He’s nonambulatory, nonverbal, and has a smile that lights up a room like nothing else. Yes, we’ve been through hell, but we’ve had this angelic, loving, marvelous child with us the whole time.

In no small way our love of and commitment to poetry—especially to each other’s—has enabled us to remain hopeful, joyful, and most of all, imaginative through some of the most challenging experiences any parent, or any couple, could face. Poetry has been one of the major forces that strengthen our family.

As poets, as individuals, we write separately. As a couple, we compose privately and then engage each other in revising and critiquing. But this year we have the unusual privilege of publishing poetry collections at the same time: Craig’s second, To Keep Love Blurry (BOA Editions), and Brenda’s third, Our Andromeda (Copper Canyon Press), will both be released this month. But these books share more than just a pub date; they share a family, describe a marriage, and navigate an excruciating crisis, accessing these common experiences through two very different portals. The poetics of To Keep Love Blurry and Our Andromeda are, to each other, foreign currency, though they reveal two sides of the same coin. The books deal with many of the same subjects: our marriage, our young son’s injury and disability, the relationship of art to life, the lessons of growing up, and intense pain, bittersweet acceptance, and big joy. Needless to say, we each deal with it all radically differently. Craig’s style is extremely formal in this book, a real departure for him, while Brenda wrote a few poems that are much longer than anything she’s ever attempted before.

We root for each other’s work, which is good because these books delve into our shared private lives. We are also genuinely nervous for that same reason. We’ve thought a lot about the way poetry fits into and shapes our marriage and our daily lives and we want to share some of what we’ve discovered.

 

“We believe writing these poems makes our family stronger, we hope they may help others in similar situations, and we believe making art out of life is essential.”

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Comments

saegraham says...

Thanks for sharing your story. A friend of mine suffered a placental abruption and ensuing emergency delivery--my difficulties were minor comparatively--but I was shocked to find out that issues related to oxygen deprivation can happen in 1-2 cases out of 1,000. (I didn't give it too much thought before I gave birth being naively preoccupied with epidural related paralysis cases in the mother, but assumed the chances were more like 1 in a million.) The chance/proximity of morbity and injury was probably the most shocking thing about being pregnant and giving birth--as there's usually such feeling of distance from radical injury or life-change for youngish people--and of course a universal possibility we dip into with every pregnancy. I really enjoyed hearing your story about how to fit writing in and don't know to what extent you want your book tours to become awareness raising endeavors/ medical explications though I imagine it might become a venue for these types of discussions depending on the audience. In any case, I look forward to reading more and am sure it will provide an avenue for reflection on the fragile veil between health and injury, and the surprising gifts and lessons this challenge brings for all of us. Bon courage to your both!

Robben says...

By including our telling of the stories of our having children of our own, and those times that were given to memory, that had made our struggles seem hopeless. When what we wanted from our childhoods was to live a different life than the one's we had. As we found that our hopes in what lay ahead could restore the trust we bestowed to one another.

slbphoenix says...

Hi,

I loved this article in that it brought back to me how much I love to write - how I used poetry as a young girl to find a way to deal with the abuse and suffering I was going through.  

As an adult, I write many things.  At age 61, I am still hoping and desiring to publish my first novel.  It is a path that is slow, but sure.  I started with a blog, 'Live And Love With Passion', then freelance writing, along with starting my novel.

I wish you much success with your books, and thank you for giving me this inspiration.  

Sally Brown

Annetherese says...

I'm looking forward to the publication of your new poetry, and I must say what an inspiration you are to me and all parents who have disabled children!  I wish you great success!

dreyes says...

Whenever I see a couple that has a special needs kid, I get a lump in my throat and wonder if I would have the inner strength to do what they are doing. These two inspired me enough to register an account here just to applaud them.