Bad Mommy Stay Mommy by Elisabeth Horan – a book of powerful poetry



A book of intense poetry written by American Elisabeth Horan, this book entrusts the reader with so much feeling that it can be a little overwhelming, but it is always well written. Suffering from postnatal depression, Horan is a strong voice for women, especially mothers, whose pain has been often secretly endured. As her mental health issues are explored through imagery and metaphors which can be unexpectedly visceral, this is a book of honesty and hope as the baby, the boys which are the obsession of many of the poems, are excitedly mentioned. I was intrigued to by this book of modern and powerful poems, and grateful to have the opportunity to read and review it here.


This powerful book opens with a poem called “My Self”, which acknowledges a feeling of persecution, despite the fact that she is every person that the reader knows and loves. Written in a fairly formal poetic style it is in direct contrast with the more flowing style of a piece like ”Arsenic Hour”, which is a more stream of consciousness. She combines the idea of “fingernail grind” with “frontal lobe sliced mango”, “Of war and love” with the descriptive sense of “frugal”. Horan is a skilled writer, combining complex ideas in an imaginative and sometimes challenging way. Her honesty is admirable, as she movingly conveys the extreme pain of a depression which is physical in its impact. Regret at so many things which cannot be helped pervades a poem like “Small Souls”, with the repeated line “how I should have…”. The imagery of love in a physical sense is so integral to each poem that it can be sometimes shocking. The theme of attempted suicide is also present, especially in the references to Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath, and this is a book which is shows a painful awareness of both of those writers’ fates. This is a book of motherhood as guilt in as much as Horan feels woefully inadequate, wrong as a woman, wife and mother, not dangerous towards the boys but only herself. Hence “Bad Mommy” , which fights through to the moving “ A little angel named you,-/ alighted on my shoulder/ and softly whispered:/ Stay mommy.


This is a slim volume which packs significance into every page, full of painful truths seeking resolution. Horan uses colour, animal imagery and so much more to convey the sometimes shocking emotions she feels overwhelmed by on a daily basis, which shape and change her life. Not an easy read, this is a brutal book which suggests only one victim – herself – and just how much pain she feels.  Yet there is always positivity in recognition and honesty, hope that will transform her life and that of those she loves. From the darkness and pain emerges flashes of light and love, and it is this element which gives depth and genuine meaning to this book. I recommend it for the trust it places its readers to read, understand and empathise with the issues it deals with, and the strength of feeling it conveys.   


Yesterday’s trip to Stratford upon Avon for the Literary Festival had another highlight, as I found the Shakespeare Hospice bookshop. Yes, there were many, many really good secondhand books available, including paperbacks and fairly recent hardbacks. In an exciting moment Northernvicar found a 1965 railway timetable…enormous excitement. I basically made a donation to the charity and ended up with a number of books…..