Poet­ry

The Many Names for Mother

Julia Kolchin­sky Dasbach

January 1, 2013

The Many Names for Moth­er is an explo­ration of inter­gen­er­a­tional moth­er­hood; its poems reach toward the future even as they reflect on the past. This evoca­tive col­lec­tion hov­ers around his­to­ry, trau­ma, and absence — from ances­tral his­to­ries of anti-Semit­ic dis­crim­i­na­tion in the for­mer Sovi­et Union to the poet’s trav­els, while preg­nant with her son, to death camp sites in Poland. As a descen­dant of Holo­caust sur­vivors, Das­bach pon­ders how the weight of her Jew­ish-refugee immi­grant expe­ri­ence comes to influ­ence her rais­ing of a first-gen­er­a­tion, bilin­gual, and mul­ti­eth­nic Amer­i­can child.

A series of poems titled Oth­er women don’t tell you” becomes a refrain through­out the book, echo­ing the unspo­ken or taboo aspects of moth­er­hood, from preg­nan­cy to the post­par­tum body. The Many Names for Moth­er empha­sizes that there is no sin­gle nar­ra­tive of moth­er­hood, no finite image of her body or its trans­for­ma­tion, and no uni­fied name for any of this expe­ri­ence. The col­lec­tion is a reminder of the moth­ers we all come from, urg­ing us to remem­ber both our named and unnamed pasts.

Discussion Questions

Julia Kolchin­sky Dasbach’s The Many Names for Moth­er is an inter­gen­er­a­tional explo­ration of par­ent­hood, ances­try, and inher­i­tance. The poems doc­u­ment a Jew­ish refugee expe­ri­ence as the fam­i­ly leaves Ukraine for Amer­i­ca, pre­serv­ing what there/​is no recovering/​from.” These transna­tion­al poems span lan­guage, place, and form, explor­ing top­ics includ­ing the Holo­caust and race through the lens of moth­er­hood. These poems expand and mul­ti­ply like gen­er­a­tions, like a moth­er reach­ing for her child even while know­ing she can­not con­tain the whole of him.”