Behind the Poem: DH by Melanie Dennis Unrau

Happiness Threads

Sitting down to write “behind” one of the poems from my new collection, Happiness Threads: The Unborn Poems, I realize many of these poems don’t have much of a backstory. The book is about mothering young children, so the background is my experience of that phase of white, middle-class, Canadian life. More specifically, it’s based in my experience in Wolseley—the “granola belt” of Winnipeg, now a more desirable neighbourhood than it was when we moved in a decade ago. It has hundred-year-old houses, organic grocery stores, a bakery famous for its whole-wheat cinnamon buns, families hanging out with neighbours on their stoops and porches, and more than its fair share of the earthy, natural-parenting mamas who appear in my poems. 

When my second child was a baby I joined a babywearing support group. You know the slings, wraps, and other contraptions parents use to carry their babies around? Well, if you’re really into those things you call yourself a babywearer. We had a lending library where anyone could borrow a carrier and try it out for a month or more at a time. And we had an online forum for babywearing parents. It turned out the “parents” were all mothers.

Both the face-to-face meetings and the more frequent online conversations came to mean a lot to me. I may sometimes feel superior now for being a bit of a luddite, but back then I threw myself into the online forum with the same fervour other people had for competing to get the most Facebook “friends.” These were women I connected with, though I would never meet most of them in real life. They didn’t know what I looked like—I wasn’t savvy enough to post pictures—so even if we did meet I could remain anonymous.

There’s an abbreviation people use for “in real life” when they’re online: IRL. That abbreviation was new to me, and so were the many others used on the forum. Some of them were specific to the topics of our conversations, including the names of baby carriers (RS = ring sling, MT = mei tai, BH = BabyHawk, SPOC = simple piece of cloth), the names of family members (DD = dear daughter, DS = dear son, LO = little one), the things we did (BF = breastfeeding, BW = babywearing, CD = cloth diapering), and even our career choices (SAHM = stay-at-home mom, WAHM = work-at-home mom, WOHM = work-outside-the-home mom).

As a newcomer to the forum I thought the abbreviations were hilarious. What did they mean? For a while I made up my own meanings, sometimes guessing at the right answers and sometimes just fooling around. Eventually I found a glossary on another site and learned the vocabulary, but I never really adopted it. The abbreviations bugged me: what if I was mad at my family member, did I really want to call them “dear”? Were all the mamas as sweet as our conversations made them out to be, or did they sometimes feel pissed off, resentful, unhappy like me? 

When I found that the edicts of the attachment-parenting gurus can be just as constricting as any other form of dogma, it was time to leave the forum. I didn’t need to make more of my family’s food from scratch, get that lingering smell out of the cloth diapers, buy a new baby carrier, analyze my children’s behaviour with other mothers, or have another baby. I needed a change. 

I wrote most of the “happiness threads” section of my book in one month during the year I got my MA and joined an artist-mothers group in our city. I took one acronym per day and wrote an entry/poem as if for an online forum. I put the poems up on my own private forum to generate them as formatted forum entries, with date stamps and thread names, emoticons, and plain text (no boldface or italics, although some of this did get added in while editing for the book).

I was influenced by feminist and queer theorist Sara Ahmed and her book The Promise of Happiness. For more on happiness scripts, the happy housewife, and the feminist killjoy, you should read her book. I also read a lot of feminist theory and poetry about motherhood during that year. The “happiness threads” were a fun side project during a very busy, very academic period of my life. 

DH is one of the early “happiness threads” poems, where the speaker cracks the code for DH (dear husband), one that I found particularly irksome for a lot of reasons—including my preference not to call my life partner husband

*****

 

Thread: family

post by wow on June 7, 2009, 8:54pm

 

DH

 

ladies i gotta tell you this one

stumped me at first

H easy enough to decipher

but the D    tricky

for weeks i read your posts like riddles

wrote my own punchlines:

 

dark + handsome took the kids to the park

damn him, he’s out of town again

dweeb husband made supper for once

drunk + hairy slept through the whole thing!

 

my own D flickered knowingly 

through darn + deadbeat to dream

all inside jokes the glossary spoiled

 

now DH makes every post about him

sweeter    my love

domesticated    steady onscreen so i curse

+ forgive him in each sentence

 

from another happy housewife

 

*****

Melanie Dennis Unrau

Once a writer of long posts late at night, Melanie Dennis Unrau now prefers to make art with a group of visual artists who meet in person in Winnipeg. She is a former editor and current poetry editor of Geez magazine. Her writing has appeared in magazines and art shows, and inExposed, an anthology of emerging Manitoba writers (The Muses’ Company, 2002). Happiness Threads: The Unborn Poems (The Muses’ Company, 2013) is her first collection.

November 11, 2013
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