RACHEL BUSH was born in Christchurch on Boxing Day 1941. She grew
up in Hawera on the west coast of the North Island. As a young woman
she wrote short stories, but she became increasingly interested in
writing poetry. Her two collections of poetry, The Hungry Woman
(1997) and The Unfortunate Singer (2002) are both published
by Victoria University Press. She has also appeared in Faber’s
Introduction 3 as well as in anthologies and journals such as
Sport, Landfall, and The Listener. Until
2003 she was a teacher of English at a secondary school in Nelson.
Bush comments: ‘In the summer of 2002 a friend stayed with
me. I’d first met her in 1950, but I hadn’t seen her since
1964. We lost touch soon after that and now she lives in St Petersburg.
We talked about Hawera, about growing up in this small rural town
close to a beautiful mountain, and how desperate we were to move away
from it. And we talked about our families, especially our mothers,
how we loved them and took them for granted. It was her mother who
knew how to make bread brooches and turn old gramophone records into
People often say that in New Zealand in the 1950s women were preoccupied
with housework and did nothing except care for their families and
husbands. If they’d been young today, of course these women
would have had longer careers in full time paid work and many of them
would have had more formal education. Would they have been wiser or
happier if they’d had these opportunities? I’m not sure.
I do know they were distinct and strong and creative. When my friend
went back to St Petersburg, I went on thinking about the mothers I’d
known when I was at school. I don’t think I set out to write
a poem to celebrate their individuality, but this is what happened.
I hope some of their particular ways of being human are clear in this
poem. I like seeing their names in a poem. I miss these women. I’m
glad I knew them once.’