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Kansas City Writer Hadara Bar-Nadav Strikes A Balance Between Poetry And Motherhood

Laura Spencer

Eighth Street Tap Room, a bar at 8th and New Hampshire in Lawrence, Kansas, hosts poetry readings each month in a dimly lit basement. As poets take the stage, they're cast in a reddish light, with gold streamers as backdrop.

Sunday's event started with a short open mic session, and then three featured poets. The final reader of the night: Hadara Bar-Nadav, an associate professor of English at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. 

Bar-Nadav's latest book, a chapbook called

Credit courtesy: Taproom Poetry Series
Hadara Bar-Nadav reading during the Taproom Poetry Series, Sunday, September 13.

Fountain and Furnace, came together during the first few months of her son's life.

Too tired to write, as her infant son napped, she edited and arranged these poems, which explore the "individual lives, and the inner lives of objects." 

Hadara Bar-Nadav reads the poem, "Door."

The next morning, it's a regular day at home in Kansas City, Missouri. Bar-Nadav is back at the house she shares with her husband, Scott Beattie, a fabrication manager at Hufft Projects, and their year-old son, Hudson. Her gray standard poodle, Ella, stands guard at the door.

Bar-Nadav started writing when she was a child – and says she’s always liked the immediacy of a poetry reading.

"I actually started out years and years and years ago, when I was a teenager and into my early 20s, as a spoken-word poet," she says. "The energy of performing was really exciting to me."

Since 2007, Bar-Nadav has taught in the English department at UMKC, and, now, an associate professor, she heads up the creative writing department. She’s published three collections of poetry and two chapbooks – and she’s also the co-author of a bestselling textbook called Writing Poems.

Credit Laura Spencer / KCUR
One-year-old Hudson, and Hadara Bar-Nadav, enjoying play at home.

When her son was born in 2014, she says the intensity of parenthood was a bit overwhelming at first. But she knew she couldn’t just put her poetry on hold.

"If I’m not writing, I don’t feel well. I feel like I’m kind of walking sideways on the earth," she says. "And I know that makes me less effective and less happy in other areas of my life."

Bar-Nadav says she's fortunate to have a supportive husband, and a sister, with three kids, who's been a sounding board. But finding the right balance in work, family, and writing has been a struggle.

She’s reached out to other artists, in email groups and in person, such as the former poet laureate of Vermont, Ellen Bryant Voight. 

"I asked her, ‘How do you have a child and do this?’ and she said, ‘You could hold a couplet in your head, and revise it and revise it throughout the day.’ And she’s totally right."

Bar-Nadav remembers holding one couplet (a two-line stanza) in her head on a recent walk with her son: "And a swing whose porch would carry me. Or, and a swing whose breeze would carry me." She went back and forth between those two variations. "And as I was walking, I decided on what the correct revision was. Because I could hear the rhythm differently."

By then, her son had fallen asleep. "And there I was writing poems and wheeling my son in a carriage around town at the same time." 

The stanza she chose appears in the poem, "House": 

Hadara Bar-Nadav reading," House."

That’s just how she has to work these days. A few minutes or an hour at a time.

"I just buckled down. I saw myself work with a kind of intensity I haven’t been able to, I would say, for years. If my husband was taking him to the supermarket, buckle down. There’s no, 'I’m going to check my email, I’m going to look on eBay.' None of that."

Piece by piece she’s been writing new poems about objects, and organizing the book-length version of her chapbook, titled The New Nudity. It was just accepted for publication by Saturnalia Books and is due out in 2017.   

"I worked with a kind of fury," she says. "And the awesome thing is it paid off. It doesn’t always."  

Bar-Nadav is home with her son two days a week.  Most of her writing has taken place on the weekends, but with a new semester underway at UMKC, she plans to start writing at night when her husband and son are asleep.

She says it's when the house is settled, and she can disappear, for awhile, into her poems. 

"Having him, which was so important to me, also forced me to realize what other things were important to me. And that I needed to nurture and make time for," she says. "So I knew it was not going to be easy, and it hasn't been, but the fight is worth it." 

Laura Spencer reports on arts and culture for KCUR 89.3. You can reach her at lauras@kcur.org, or on twitter, @lauraspencer. Kansas Public Radio's Laura Lorson also contributed reporting to this story. 

TELL KC: If you’re an artist, how has having a child or children affected your work? Click here to tell your story. Or become a source for our Tell KC network, a collaboration of KCUR and KCPT in Kansas City. 

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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