“Everything is over and nothing has yet begun.”

That phrase sums up that moment between life as it has been and life as it will be, pre and post the birth of a baby daughter. This is a fictionalised, fragmented memoir of fatherhood, it oozes experiential detail, you can read it as a novella or as a long poem, Klaces’ work slips seamlessly between prose poem and verse. It’s a gentle, moving account of a man taking stock, determined to soak up the experience of bringing a child into the world; the joy and fear, the insecurity and trepidation, the practicalities and bliss, the wonders and trials of new fatherhood. Klaces has set out to put into words something normally taken for granted or glossed over, the expression of love felt by a father for his daughter. It’s a ‘diary’ that eschews the masculine code of silence around feelings. Given that there is very little in life as important than having children, if so blessed, savouring the experience, examining it, and recording it makes for an interesting read. Fatherhood is a warm tale, richly textured, which is not surprising as Klaces is a poet, it’s a tale not without its ups and downs, and although it’s more emotional than intellectual Klaces has a clear, unsentimental eye. He is able to convey how the experience of having a child and bringing her up not so much alters priorities as reorders life. Becoming a father, in that sense, is like being reborn. But new life breeds an interest in the past, this is not just an evaluation of self, of immediate family and values but of family history, of origins. Klaces is keen to draw parallels between the human and the natural world, it is a constant theme in the book this symbiotic relationship.

The first person narrator of the book is, of course, a writer, his wife has a full-time job and he has a grant to write a novel. With a baby coming, the couple need to make new plans, the most significant of which is to buy a house. The basement flat in the city, endured rather than loved, is no longer fit for purpose. He has already set traps for the mice whose crime is to creep around the kitchen, a threat to the coming baby, this is something he never would have contemplated otherwise, by inclination he is wouldn’t seek to harm another creature. There is a measure of wit about Fatherhood, the natural humour in the things people do and think and the more absurd flights of fancy the mind can take when sleep deprived or driven to distraction.

Then the baby is due, he feels ashamed of flinching when his wife moans in the taxi, it’s a sign of prudery. At the hospital:

‘I expected a welcome party. Instead I saw midwives eating a packed lunch on a wall.’

Why isn’t there a fanfare? The baby arrives, a girl. Over the weeks, he witnesses her eyes opening, the first smile, the first . . .etc.

He finally recovers a balance in his domestic living, regaining the ability to put on matching socks. He is a observer of the baby’s dialogue with the world:

‘rapid blink
toe flex
rising sound
falling sound
falling over (from horizontal position)
neck grasp
fingernail moult’

He begins to research his family history. They inherit money from a distant relative, such goes towards the new house away from the city, it is built on a flood plain. The move is not without its tribulations. The story follows the father in the first few years of his daughter’s life:

‘She said the hamsters would like lots of strawberries on her pancake.’

Fatherhood is touching, original, experimental. Its brevity and precise language make it a quick read but one that will catch the imagination of would be mothers and fathers and the memory of family men.

Klaces is also the author of Bottled Air (2013), which won the Melita Hume Prize and an Edgar Gregory Award. He is a lecturer in Creative Writing and English Literature at St. John’s University and runs the York Centre for Writing Poetry Series.

Prototype is a new publishing venture for 2019 established by Jess Chandler, the co-founder of Test Centre and House Sparrow Press.

Paul Burke 3/4

Fatherhood by Caleb Klaces
Prototype Publishing 9781916052017 pbk Nov 2019