Review of Nicole Homer's Pecking Order (Write Bloody, 2017)

8 Things Nicole Homer’s Pecking Order Taught Me About Motherhood

a creative review by Leila Green


In Nicole Homer’s first full-length poetry collection, Pecking Order, she examines motherhood and its impact on women’s bodies. Her poems circle miscarriages, births, and child-rearing, uniquely focusing on their dreary, physical aspects. They subvert the power typically associated with childbirth, exploring the visceral elements that often render it grotesque. In “Motherhood,” she laments:

Motherhood is like
being pecked
to death
by my
favorite birds
made from my
body, torn
by beaks sharpened.

In this way, Homer strays from often romanticized notions of motherhood, offering a more sobering, nuanced account of birthing and raising children. The strange violence depicted here is mirrored in another poem, “How I Became a Mother Contemplating Loss,” in which the act of giving birth is totally stripped of melodrama and instead painted with blood and other unsavory fluids:

My body offered me a new
dream: a woman as round as I, reaching into me; a room, dimly lit and
gray; voices talking to me; tears and sweat and shit and blood, my blood,
my screams. Then, my newest prayer on my chest. Hungry for my body
and suckling at me until we were both milk drunk and near sleep…

This portrayal of mother and child as undergoing intertwined traumas invites an inquiry about the ownership of women’s bodies. Aside from the physical effects, what does giving birth say about mothers and their bodies? How much of ourselves is lost when we give birth? Homer writes of her newborn son: “I held him for hours that way. His hair flaked with my blood. His skin/ sticky with my blood. His blood, my blood” (“How I Became a Mother Contemplating Loss”). This mingling of selves is at odds with the body’s reclaiming after childbirth. Even after they are born, a mother’s child is still an inextricable thing. Through offering more realistic, less saccharine versions of birth and motherhood, Pecking Order forces us to reexamine often glamorized understandings of what it means to birth life, assume the role of a mother, and reclaim the body. Ultimately, Homer makes us wonder: Does motherhood elevate or lower women and their bodies in the proverbial pecking order?

Although Pecking Order begs many questions, it ended up answering several of my own. Homer’s poems taught me that:

1.     Giving birth is not only beautiful, but violent. Even grotesque.

2.     Our bodies barely belong to us. Even our children can pillage them, grow, then go elsewhere.

3.     Motherhood makes women belong even less to themselves.

4.     We have to work to reclaim our bodies, after birth, during life, after death.

5.     Our children can be cruel reminders of what we are not.

6.     Overarching narratives about the power of motherhood ignore the ways in which it often renders us powerless.

7.     Our children’s bodies are inextricably, and eternally, tied to our own.

8.     Motherhood is a double-edged sword.

Leila is a 24 year old writer from Milwaukee. She posts reviews of black poetry and literary fiction on her Instagram: