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Review: Kelly Fordon’s new poetry is an unsentimental look at marriage and motherhood

In her new collection of poems, Goodbye Toothless House, Michigan writer Kelly Fordon takes aim at the idealized facade of marriage and motherhood. Ann Arbor-based poet and writer Keith Taylor has this review for us.

Listen above to hear Keith Taylor's review of "Goodbye Toothless House." 

The third poem in Kelly Fordon’s new collection Goodbye Toothless House begins:

"Five years after college,

I was strapped into a swing

alongside a squalling baby.

Women in houses all around

lined up like dummies on shelves."

Ouch! No sweet memories of wife-ing and mothering there. Since it’s early in the book, a reader who wants more sweetness and sentimentality might be thinking, “Oh, this is interesting; the poet is going to figure things out and learn to love her new family life." But Kelly Fordon is not that easy on herself, nor on her readers.

Near the middle of the book, in a poem ominously entitled “The Teenager,” after describing the deep difficulties that sometimes arise when raising children through those hard years, she writes, “It went on and on/and when it was over,/we were old.” No platitudes about how it was all worthwhile in the end. Just simply, “it was over, we were old.”

In case this sounds too bleak for you, I can assure that you that even though it is very bleak, there are moments that allow for different responses. When Fordon ends a poem about watching children leave kindergarten, she writes:

“We give children trophies/for breathing in and out./Clap and clap and clap and clap./The years pass like cafeteria trays.”

Forgive me, but I find that frank admission of tedium in that situation kind of funny. Not funny in the sweet “kids are so cute” way; but funny in the “life is weird, why do we do this” way.

The last poem, “The Escape Artist” is a series of goodbyes to that domesticity, which has not given meaning to this woman’s life:

"Goodbye to

this fallow life,

the heathery sky,

the metal grabbers,

and all who

thought I was


This speaker is certainly not, or is no longer, spellbound. Wherever she has arrived, it is not reconciliation. It is certainly not acceptance or submission. It is farewell, she has had enough, and it is liberating.

Support for arts and culture coverage comes in part from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.

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