Interview Poetry book, Eruption Sequence, faces out on a bookshelf

Published on August 8th, 2023 | by Tiffany Graham Charkosky


Motherhood is Like Cutting Teeth: A Conversation with Meg Thompson

In high school, a quiet girl with wild red curls was in my honors English class. I was new to our school, a miserable suburban transplant into rural Ohio. I have a few vivid memories of this girl – Meg Thompson – who, when asked by our teacher what she would choose if she could have anything in the world, answered, “More trees.”

I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t immediately latch onto Meg and seek out her friendship. I was too angry about moving in the first place, and spent most of my time waiting for high school to be over. 

Our younger sisters are best friends, though. During the first pandemic summer, my sister shared an essay Meg wrote in Mutha. I didn’t know Mutha existed until then, and I fell into a reading trance as I consumed dozens of essays on the various ways other women were also being consumed by motherhood.

I got an idea in my mind that I needed to have my sister, her best friend, and Meg over. This was before vaccines, when we were only seeing people outside, far apart from each other. Shockingly, Meg drove over 45 minutes to my house with a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. I laughed with these women on my patio in a way that felt fresh after so many months without human contact.

Two young women (one blonde, one with red hair) make silly, skeptical faces as they side-eye something to the right of the photo
The sisters

Late in the evening, after my sister left to put her daughter to bed and we all harassed her to come back (and she didn’t), I asked Meg how her writing was going. I had rediscovered my own need to write and was craving someone to talk about this with. I’m happy to report that twenty years after we graduated from high school, I embraced this second chance at friendship. 

When I learned that Meg’s book of poetry, Eruption Sequence, was being published by Another New Calligraphy, I was as happy for her as if the news was my own. Eruption Sequence is a collection of poems that looks at the process of teething as a metaphor for motherhood. Something about knowing someone, a real person, blindly but faithfully sending her work out into the world made it feel like my own writing projects stood on stronger legs. I’ve always loved hearing artists of all kinds talk about what went into shaping a piece of work: what they needed to express and how they used their artistic voice and vision to share it with the world. Thank you to Meg for sharing her experience of creating Eruption Sequence with me. 

Tiffany Graham Charkosky: Before we dive into this book of poems, I want to talk about the cover. Can you share how you responded when your publisher sent it to you?

Meg Thompson: It made me unreasonably happy. I don’t even have a guess as to how long I have been trying to get a book of poems published. I feel like I submitted to every contest and small press in America before finding Another New Calligraphy. I have also been through dozens of manuscripts. But Bill Ripley, the editor, got precisely what I wanted. Minimal, subtle, but unflinching. I love that the reader sees one gigantic tooth, roots exposed, on the cover. It signals that I am not hiding anything. It is sensitive, but it is there. When I saw the cover, I thought about my kids, and how they are the ones that got me here.

You weave a metaphor throughout the book that likens motherhood to cutting teeth. This felt so visceral to me. When did you land on this as a through line in the writing of this collection?

I was sitting at a bar in Shaker Heights, Ohio, waiting for my sisters. We were going to have dinner later.  It was much needed time away because my son was teething. And when I am confronted with something like this, something that I don’t know or understand, something that pains me or the people around me, I start reading about it to try and calm myself. So I googled teething on my phone. I remember it vividly. I was drinking an IPA and thinking that the bar was too nice, too bright and clean. Then I read that when a tooth comes in, the proper term is that it “erupts.” It was a Wikipedia page about pediatric dentistry. The phrase for the order the teeth come in is called an eruption sequence. And I just thought, that’s it. That’s what we are going through. 

Can you describe the process of writing these poems to me? When did you know you had a collection?

Someone told me once that you know a book is done when it can’t be opened anymore. The “it” in this case is the metaphor that you are working to expand. Before I became a mother, I was not very good at knowing when a writing project is complete. Now that I have children, one of my strengths is knowing precisely when I cannot possibly give anymore of myself. I loved writing these poems. They both upended me and fulfilled me. I needed to write them, late at night, with my son in my arms, in order to get through it all. We still think of poems about motherhood as trapped in a language of sentimentality, and I felt an urge to destroy that notion with every poem I wrote.

Epigraph featuring quotes from Essentials for Orthodontic Practice and Cardi B

Tell me about your epigraph.

Epigraphs are one of my top five literary obsessions. I collect them the same way I do images and metaphors. I cannot tell you how much I love, for an epigraph, the sterile language of two orthodontists next to a quote from Cardi B. I wanted to set the contrasting tones of heavy and unexpected, which is how I feel about the act of mothering. 

I almost used the refrain from the children’s book We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen — “We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. Oh no! We have to go through it.” I thought of this refrain, in its delicate, sing-song cadence, as a way to battle postpartum depression, and it felt like the perfect epigraph, because it applies quite neatly to teething. There is no way around it. There is no parenting hack. You have to just get through it.

I read this collection as a meditation on the range of your emotional experiences postpartum. I see depression, but also joy and a keen sense of irony as well. What was it like to revisit these feelings? 

I have always been, like most writers, devastatingly internal. I also remember everything in excruciating detail. Ask my family and friends about it!  My phone is full of cryptic notes about dreams I had, images, and potential similes. I feel like I am in a constant state of revisitation with my feelings. It can be painful, but I’ve learned to be a little more okay with it because that is just the type of person I am. If I wasn’t this person, I wouldn’t be a writer. When I was in college, my mom told me to be a pharmacist. This would have been, and still is, impossible. I am incapable of doing anything remotely normal, stable, and financially-savvy for long periods of time. I completely understand why people don’t like to write. It is such a confrontation with yourself. It is easier to not do that, but that’s why so many of us are at war with something. I don’t think a lot of us know who we really are.

Author Meg Thompson stands in front of bright green vines, holding her book, Eruption Sequence. She has red hair and wears a plaid shirt over a T-shirt.
Meg Thompson

How do you use humor to balance your intense emotional experiences?

I go to humor all the time. Funny poetry is about as well-respected as poetry about motherhood so I love combining them and making it even more of a challenge. But if I didn’t laugh through some of the agony of raising small children, I wasn’t going to make it. 

I try to take what is difficult about being a parent and find a way to make it funny, universal, fresh, new, etc. Meaning, I look at it harder. With humor writing, I study the tone so much. It’s a style of writing that is not for everyone. You can ask about 100 editors I’ve submitted poems to and get confirmation on that. 

Your children are much older than the babies in some of these poems now. Has the pain dulled for you with time? How has it changed?

I am a much happier mother than I used to be. Some of the reasons for this are very surface-level, like I am able to sleep more. There are less tantrums. I quit my job. You will never hear me tell another mom that “she will miss these days when they are gone.” That is some straight-up toxic Boomer language and it enrages me. We romanticize the baby years because babies are so enchanting, but oh my fucking god have you been around a baby, for, like, a long time? It’s challenging. I was convinced some days that I had literally gone insane. I slept for 45 minutes a night, my nipples were bleeding, breakfast was cold spaghetti, everyone had diarrhea. What part of that do I want to revisit? Not a second. I understand why people say it, but it can take away from the joy of your kids growing up. I spend whole mornings in my kitchen sometimes listening to jazz and tinkering with a rye bread recipe while my kids play by themselves outside. That’s a good thing. A great thing. My mental health is protected and my kids are happy. I feel passionate about this. If I had one wish for every mother, it would be that they, every once in a while, were able to truly relax. 

I love the section of your book that focuses on all the different types of moms out in the world. You have Zoo Mom, Target Mom, Good Mom, Easy Mac Mom, and many others. Tell me about these versions of yourself as a mother and how this part of the book developed.

I love those poems, and I’ve found that they are the ones that people have connected with the most. They were the easiest for me to write, perhaps because as a mom you have countless identities. This wasn’t always a good thing for me. Sometimes I felt very far from myself, and I would think of myself in the third person. It might have been a survival tactic. If I wasn’t really myself, if I was just this other person, then maybe I could get through the days and nights easier. I had a lot of those poems and probably could have built an entire manuscript around them, like I have one called Woke Mom. It’s about a mom that’s really tired. 

Bowl of macaroni
Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

Your longest poem compares the birthing of a calf with your own traumatic birth experience and another baby who experienced birth injuries. Was creating narrative around your childbirth healing?

Yes, it was. I was never one to think of writing as therapeutic until I had kids. Before I had kids, I wrote because I liked it. It made me happy and I was good at it. Then I went through childbirth. I should have sued the hospital where I had my first baby. It was so traumatic that when we got home, I couldn’t sleep for days. I just stared at my daughter. That was nine years ago, and I still carry that trauma with me. It shapes you and the way you raise your kids. And yet, I was lucky. My children are healthy. There are so many parents that have to watch their children endure unthinkable pain. That mangles my heart, and that is where a lot of my writing comes from.

As a superfan of your work, I love that I feel like I know some of your repeated characters, most especially your husband, Todd, your mom, and your mother in law. What is their reaction to being so prevalent in your writing?

If I had to guess, I would say that they like it. I think deep down most people like being written about, even if they don’t say it. It’s a form of flattery. A compliment. I write about people that are interesting, dynamic, and have something to say. If you aren’t a compelling person, I’m probably not going to write about you.  

What advice do you have for all of the poets out there trying to share their work with the world?

Writers love to say that what you need to do, if you want to be a writer, is read. My issue with this advice is not that you shouldn’t read, but that you should be reading to help your writing, or get published. You should read because you like to read. When you are reading with the goal to improve your writing, or increase your chances of publication, you are done for. If I am being completely honest, I think a lot of writers say this because they want you to read their stuff. 

Secondly, don’t listen to anyone that tells you that you need to write every day. I hate this advice so much. It’s insane. It probably works for some people, but not all. As a writer, I found that when I wrote everyday, I actually made my writing worse. This is because I am an obsessive. I have to turn away from my writing for a while or else I kind of lose it. It is better when I return to it after a time with fresh eyes. That said, I spend a lot of time “writing” that isn’t literal writing. I collect images, similes, metaphors, and epigraphs. I watch a lot of television, which I find inspiring. I go on really long walks with my dog, which relaxes me. All of this helps my writing. 

It took me a long time to realize the type of writer that I am. That is what you have to do. That is my advice: find the type of writer that you are. Be extremely careful who you listen to. When I was younger, I listened to a lot of writers I probably shouldn’t have, just because they were older and more successful than me. Writers love to tout some specific routine because it works for them. They have a method that worked really well for them, so they are telling you their method because they think it is the best. But writers are not known for their small egos. Tread carefully when you are out among writers. Some of them are crazy. Not me, though.

Tags: , , ,

About the Author

Tiffany Graham Charkosky lives with her family in Lakewood, Ohio. Tiffany spends her early mornings writing and her weekends cheering for her sons on various sports fields and courts throughout Northeast Ohio, or visiting Lake Erie. She was appointed as Cleveland Public Library’s first Director of Arts and Culture in February 2023.

She is currently seeking a publisher for her memoir, The Calm and the StormA Race to Outrun Bad Genes and can be found on Instagram @tiffanygrahamcharkosky. 

Leave a Reply

Any comments left on this article will be sent directly to its author. We do not at this time publicly display comments. (If you want to write a public post about this article, we encourage you to do so on social media). We love comments, feedback and critique but mean or snarky comments will not be shared and will be deleted.  

Your email address will not be published.

Back to Top ↑
  • Subscribe to Mutha

    Enter your email address to subscribe to MUTHA and receive notifications of new articles by email.

    Email Frequency