19th October 2015
Buy a copy of The Don’t Touch Garden
‘Mirror, mirror on the wall’
the old joke says
‘I am my mother after all’
Born in 1938 and adopted soon after, Kate Foley grew up in London during WWII.
The Don’t Touch Garden explores what it is to be adopted, both for the child and the adoptive parents, through a wide range of poetic styles and complex emotions. Sometimes autobiographical and narrative, sometimes oblique, brought together for the first time, these poems trace a search for identity and for the meaning of family which everyone can relate to, whatever kind of family brought them up.This is NOT a misery memoir! Some terrible things happen, but the voice of Kate’s young self, deeply unimpressed by all the drama around her, holds the story together.
4th May: Thank you for your kind donation of two and sixpence …
19th August: I have pleasure in sending you particulars of a dear little girl …
24th August: I am so glad to know you are interested in this little Catholic baby and can come on September 5th.
It will be quite in order for you to take baby if you like her and there is no need to bring any clothing, as baby will be dressed ready for the journey and a small parcel of clothes will be given you at the interview.
So wrote The National Adoption Society to the woman who became Kate Foley’s adoptive mother.
Sixty years later she was standing with her newly discovered brother by the bronze plaque commemorating their mother in a San Francisco graveyard.
This is not the well-worn story of abandonment and discovery, although the poems do hinge around those facts. While these poems will resonate strongly with those of us adopted as children, and with adoptive parents; all of us grow up wondering who we are and who we might be, and need to see, accept and parent the face we find in the mirror.
Kate Foley has published seven collections previously, and her poetry has garnered many awards, commendations and prizes, most recently the 2014 Second Light Long Poetry Prize (Judged by Jackie Kay) for The Other Side of Sleep, the title poem of Arachne Press’ first poetry anthology. Her first ever prize (judged by U.A. Fanthorpe) was for My Father, Counting Sheep which is included in the collection.
Drawn from poems written over several years, this book’s dizzying ambition is to plot a path through the life of an adopted child. Foley does so with consummate skill, creating poetic forms to encompass the experiences of the child, her birth mother, her adoptive parents, aunts and midwives. Foley’s language is imagistic, fragmentary, full of jump-cuts, yet always vigorously carried forward through a set of clear-speaking voices to show us that the “DNA of years” is just as formative as that “tangle of parental DNA” we are each born with. There is suffering and lies, grief, distance and disappointment, but her message is ultimately an optimistic one: blood is not thicker than water; we are each of us, to a large extent, creators of ourselves, parents of ourselves. Brilliantly focused and carefully sequenced, these poems provide a thrilling and moving account of the processes by which any of us – adopted or not – become who we are.
These poems are an absorbing account of the legacy of being an adopted child. With language at once forthright and tender, this moving sequence reflects Foley’s unflinching gaze into the mirror in a sometimes excoriating attempt to discern traces of her belonging, and to make peace with the past. An illuminating must-read for adoptees and their parents, both biological and de facto, and for adoption workers who engage with the precarious task of arranging the exchange of one set of parents with another.
Joy Howard. (Poet, publisher and former Fostering Services Manager).