18th November, 2022

In conversation with BOTY shortlisted author Eleanor Jackson

Gravidity and Parity (Vagabond Press) is a poignant and intricate collection of poetry that guides the reader into the journey of motherhood, pulling no punches in how it addresses and details all that is often unsaid or unknown about pregnancy. The book is set during the COVID pandemic, and author Eleanor Jackson beautifully encapsulates this all-too-familiar moment in recent history, reflecting on themes of connectedness and isolation.

—BOTY 2022 judging panel

We asked Eleanor some questions about her poetry collection, Gravidity and Parity, one of the shortlisted titles for the 2022 SPN Book of the Year Award. The award ceremony will take place on 25 November and will feature readings from Eleanor and the other shortlisted authors.

To see the full shortlist, click here.

To book a ticket to the BOTY award ceremony, click here. All the shortlisted books will be available for purchase at the Independent Publishing Conference and at the BOTY award ceremony, through our conference bookseller, Readings. They can also be ordered through the Readings website.

Q. Your poems have a powerful sense of immersion in the present-day world. The COVID-19 pandemic, Black Lives Matter movement, Trump’s presidency and the incorporation of technology are brought naturally to the fore, rather than operating as impartial and immaterial backdrops. Can you talk about the importance of reflecting moments of time in your writing practice?   

I definitely wanted these poems to have a very particular timestamp. For better or worse. At the time I worried the issues would date. Sadly, some of them haven’t. 

I have long been interested in the idea of poetry as a documentary practice. I don’t think that knowledge or form is neutral, and I’ve been curious what we learn when trying to represent ‘reality’ as it happens. And this feels like a ‘momentous time’, for our community, for our cultures, for our society as a whole, and I was conscious of wanting to record that in real time. But even momentous times can feel simultaneously deeply prosaic and even boring. So I wanted to try and capture a time with a telescoping quality, sometimes looking at the minute and sometimes looking at the enormous.

Q. Could you speak to the conception of the title, Gravidity and Parity

I will admit that I find titles difficult, both the titles of poems and particularly a collection. But the sound and the meaning of gravidity and parity made sense to me. ‘Gravidity’ refers to the number of times that a person has been pregnant, while ‘parity’ refers to the number of times that a person has delivered a live birth. I was interested in the gap between those states of being, and also in the double meaning and end rhymes—I mean, who doesn’t enjoy a little wordplay? So the title suggests things that have a weightiness, gravity, seriousness and also the questions of inequality, particularly gender inequality but also racial inequality.

Q. How did this collection come together? Were the poems written across different points of time in your life?   

 It doesn’t sound very spontaneous, but I wrote a poem a week like a diary across all four trimesters, both the first trimester when I experienced a miscarriage and my subsequent pregnancy. I’ve always kept a journal and often these have formed the basis of poems so it appealed to that existing process, even if it had more rigid constraints this time around. I will acknowledge that finishing the bulk of the manuscript while in early labour and the last trimester in hospital was a bit stressful and tiring, but interesting for me nonetheless. 

Q. In the preface, Dr Natalie Kon-yu speaks of dismissing her pregnancy ‘as private, something to be hushed away as “women’s business”.’ Is this oft-shared sentiment something you wanted to engage with actively and critically in your collection?

Absolutely. And I wanted to recognise how inexpressible and difficult it feels sometimes to express that ‘women’s business’ without being exclusionary. There is often a sense that motherhood or pregnancy are mythical, magical times that can only be enjoyed by the person themselves or a few intimate connections. But the philosophical questions of what it means, to be one thing and then another, to divide and then think about responsibilities across the body and across multiple bodies, to consider how we care and love for all people who are brought into the world, how society views parents and ‘mothers’ in particular, those are questions that are bigger than just the individual pregnant person.

Q. The poems are centred around the bodily experiences of pregnancy loss, pregnancy and early motherhood; however, they are not contained by the body. Was this balance difficult to navigate when writing this collection? 

I’m not sure that it was as difficult so much as necessary. I think sometimes I was in my body as a pregnant person and sometimes I wasn’t. And that was a part of the documentary, or diaristic process.  

Q. Can you speak to the reasons behind including letters in Gravidity and Parity

Perhaps because I gave myself such strong constraints, writing every week, there were times when I wanted people to know specifically that I was thinking of them. I don’t know that Donald Trump cares, but you never know? 

Q. As the collection progresses, there seemed to be an increasing focus on religion and spirituality. What was the intention behind this development? 

I am Filipino Australian and was raised Catholic and I have often thought about poetry as an outlet for secular prayer, a place of mindful recognition and incantation that in some way hopes for transformation and a type of enlightenment. I also think that there is nothing to be avoided in considering religion or spirituality, just because I no longer believe in any kind of mystical being or God figure. I think that both religion and spirituality are concerned with what it means to be, what it means to be good and what the purpose of existence is, all of which are questions you revisit at a state of existential transformation, like pregnancy. 

Q. And finally, are you working on anything right now (poetry, performances, essays and exhibitions, just to name a few of the practices in your repertoire) that you’d be comfortable sharing? 

Yes! I’m working and reworking on a suite of poems about women and cars, and a series of poetic essays about parenting through race in Australia . . . but in fits and starts and weekend-bouts of writing.

Eleanor Jackson is a Filipino Australian poet, performer, arts producer and community radio broadcaster. She is the author of A Leaving (Vagabond Press) and her live album, One Night Wonders, is produced by Going Down Swinging. Eleanor is committed to developing and hosting events and experiences that showcase the diversity of both poetic language and writers and audiences. She is the producer of the Melbourne Poetry Map and a former Editor in Chief of Peril Magazine, Board Member of Queensland Poetry Festival and Vice-Chair of the Stella Prize. She is currently Chair of Peril Magazine, an online magazine committed to celebrating Asian Australian arts and culture.

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