In Conversation with Cheryl Moskowitz – Maternal Impression

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The term maternal impression refers to the belief that powerful stimuli on the mind of a mother can make a physical or mental mark on the child she is carrying, even before it is born.

I was born with a birthmark on my lip, a haemangioma. Round and purplish it resembled a large blood blister. I was known as the girl with ‘the thing on her lip’ until it was surgically removed when I was 12. I strangely missed its presence when it was gone. Although as a child I never thought of my birthmark as anything but mine alone, when each of my own children were born, I did expect to discover a similar distinguishing mark on them that might implicate and connect them to me.

The title poem explores this idea and explores questions of culpability and blame, separation and distance that are taken up by other poems in the book.

The constraints imposed by the pandemic became for me a spur to action. Having spent the early part of the first lockdown writing a poetry collection for children in response to conversations with local children and families about their concerns and hopes for the future, I was compelled to ask the same of myself. I wrote poems that I realised I had needed to write for some time and went back to existing poems to look for connections.

My family is spread across four continents but was suddenly made present, drawn together by my 87-year-old mother who busied herself setting daily games and quizzes for us all to do in our different time zones. There has been so much anxiety and fear this last year and her endeavours made sure that every one of us was kept in mind, and this moved me. My first collection The Girl is Smiling (Circle Time Press 2012) centred itself around memory and loss, documenting some of my toing and froing from San Francisco to look after my estranged father as he lived the last years of his life with Alzheimers. My novel, Wyoming Trail (Granta 1998) also focussed on the absent father. I set out to congregate poems that centred on maternal presence.

The pandemic has exposed extreme division, inequality and injustice. Events surrounding that, the killing of George Floyd last May and the ensuing BLM uprising against the gross displays of cruelty and greed, have also found their way into this book. The poems in Maternal Impression are about the marks we make on one another, the gifts we take and the scars we bear from some of our most primal human encounters.

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I saw the call out for pamphlet submissions from Against the Grain Poetry Press last summer and was immediately attracted to their list and to their three formidable editors.

I keep my poems in a ring binder, arranged in alphabetical rather than thematic or chronological order. Once I’d decided to start with ‘Maternal Impression’ the process of selection for the pamphlet was a joyous mix of intuition and chance discovery of unexpected connections. To be honest, I wasn’t sure the pamphlet was ready until I finally pressed ‘send’, one minute to midnight on June 30th, the final day for submissions. I’m so glad I did.

Maternal Impression will be launched on March 28th with tickets available here:

Pamphlet launch – Chaucer Cameron and Cheryl Moskowitz Tickets, Sun 28 Mar 2021 at 15:00 | Eventbrite

Copies available in our SHOP

Praise for Maternal Impression:

“Every time I have heard Cheryl Moskowitz read “The Donner Party”, strange things have happened – a bell has rung with no-one at the door, candles have guttered in a church setting, and shivers always run down my spine. Moskowitz’s poetry summons spirits and spills beyond the words on the page into a mystical space where we are all connected in body and mind. These are poems that once read or heard, leave their mark. Mesmeric, soul-feeding, uneasy, I come back to them again and again for reassurance, admonishment, and recognition of what it is to hang onto the maternal in our collective journey. Maternal Impression is a call to arms – maternal arms – and all that implies in the Anthropocene. It has a beating heart that needs to be heard, felt, and heeded.” – Lisa Kelly

cherylCheryl Moskowitz was born in Chicago and raised in Denver, Colorado. She came to the UK when she was 11. Poet, novelist and translator, she writes for adults and children and translates the work of Ethiopian writer, Bewketu Seyoum. Her first poetry collection The Girl is Smiling (Circle Time Press) was included in the Sunday Telegraph’s review of ‘Best New Poetry’ and her novel Wyoming Trail (Granta) was lauded as ‘deeply moving’ (Scotland on Sunday), ‘an extraordinary, powerful novel’ (The Express) and ‘a fearless plunge into the deep pool of family’ (The Observer). Formerly an actor and a playwright, she is trained in psychodynamic counselling and dramatherapy.

In 2013 she was selected as one of the Poetry Trust’s inaugural Aldeburgh Eight and was on the 2019-20 Poetry Business Writing School with Peter and Ann Sansom. She is an editor at Magma Poetry and was a long time member on the organising committee for the European Psychoanalytic Film Festival (Epff) at the Institute of Psychoanalysis. Her poems have appeared in The Poetry Review, The New European, Finished Creatures, The Rialto, Magma, The Saint Ann’s Review and The Manhattan Review amongst others; she has won prizes in the Bridport, Troubadour, Kent & Sussex and Hippocrates poetry competitions; and was a 2018 Moth Poetry Prize finalist. Her poem, ‘Hotel Grief’ was commended in the 2019 National Poetry Competition. 

Maternal Impression (ATG) will be her first collection to be published in pamphlet form. With her husband, composer Alastair Gavin she runs the All Saints Sessions www.allsaintssessions.uk an innovative poetry and electronics performance series in North London. www.cherylmoskowitz.com

Pamphlet launch – Chaucer Cameron and Cheryl Moskowitz: Sunday 28 March 2021 at 3pm BST: Eventbrite

The Poetry Shed

Pamphlet launch – Chaucer Cameron and Cheryl Moskowitz Tickets, Sun 28 Mar 2021 at 15:00 | Eventbrite

 

In an Ideal World I’d Not be Murdered ispart memoir/part fiction and is Chaucer’s debut pamphlet. The poems explore the impact of prostitution.

“These poems ring out like gunshots in the night; they will wake you from your sleep. Yet despite its distilled directness, this book is lifted by both mystery and surprise. Listen for the songs emerging from the dark centre of this transformative work of experience and survival.’  Jacqueline Saphra.  

“Every time I have heard Cheryl Moskowitz read “The Donner Party”, strange things have happened – a bell has rung with no-one at the door, candles have guttered in a church setting, and shivers always run down my spine. Moskowitz’s poetry summons spirits and spills beyond the words on the page into a mystical space where we are all connected in body and mind. These…

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Arrival at Elsewhere – Cheltenham Poetry Festival

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I was lucky enough to be at this Reading, hosted by Cheltenham Poetry Festival at the beginning of March (4th). It was incredibly moving and the whole time I was thinking what a powerhouse of a project it was, what an undertaking. Although, in the Q&A Carl Griffin (curator) brushed it off as not being overly complicated. Many of us feel we wouldn’t have known where to begin. He started with a kitchen table and some cut up pieces. Carl looked for pattern and he was certainly able to orchestrate that. It was interesting to hear about the process of the book coming together from the initial idea to the finished product. I am still amazed at the seaming of 100 voices into one book length poem.

Carl Griffin talks more about the process here.

This book is more than a chronical of our times.

Money raised from…

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In Conversation with Chaucer Cameron – In an Ideal World I’d Not be Murdered

in anWhat was the initial concept and how did it develop?

Several years ago, I wrote a monologue called ‘The Raid’, which was staged as part of New Writers programme at the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham. ‘The Raid’ was based on the 1978 police raid of the brothel in Streatham, hosted by former madam, Cynthia Payne. (Cynthia’s life was also depicted in a film called Personal Services with Julie Walters.) 

I followed this in 2016 with ‘Brothel Keeping in Suburbia’ which I read at an International Women’s Day event. The development of the concept took time because traumatic experiences are often received in delay – it took over thirty years to achieve the emotional distance that was needed to be able to reflect through these events in my poetry.

I then attended a writing group in London and took some of my new poems there. It was not unsurprising that the group I had joined was based near my old haunts and my old flat where I’d lived in London: Farleigh Road, Clissold Park, Kings Cross – which are mentioned in the poems. This geographical space triggered many more poems. I felt at home and I was able to start writing what is now In an Ideal World I’d Not Be Murdered.  

Can you tell me how In an Ideal World I’d Not be Murdered came into being? 

I laid all the poems out on the floor to see how they spoke to each other. As I was going through them my biggest surprise was that the bulk of the collection was written using a very different voice to the one that I am most familiar with. I am a lyric poet by default. I tend towards the experimental, cross genre, free verse. I also approach subjects by going in slant. But this writing was radically different, it was narrative, direct, it employed characters and had a plot. Through the characters not only was I able to re-enact the past, but also to understand what happened and speak about it – although in these poems the boundaries between reality and fiction are blurred!

Crystal was one of the first characters on the scene and she was fierce and feisty! She had her own voice and demanded she be featured in her own book. The title In an Ideal World I’d Not Be Murdered is taken from the title of the penultimate poem in the publication, where Crystal sets out her own manifesto for an ideal world – full of contradiction and ambiguity:

Crystal knew what she wanted and that was somewhere quiet, but not so quiet I get
murdered.

Other characters trauma-wounds are experienced and displayed through the body, but are also expressions of fragmented memory, such as:      

Ash held off the stab wound
through her laugh. 

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As a poet and poetry filmmaker can we expect (hope) to see a film based on your pamphlet?

Yes absolutely, I’m working on it at the moment with Helen Dewbery. It will contain several of the poems from the pamphlet. 

It’s delayed due to Covid-19 travel restrictions – we want the location of some of the footage to give an indexical connection to the actual places where these events happened, while telling the story indirectly through the characters. 

In an Ideal World I’d Not be Murdered will be launched on March 28th at 3pm. Tickets available here:

Pamphlet launch – Chaucer Cameron and Cheryl Moskowitz Tickets, Sun 28 Mar 2021 at 15:00 | Eventbrite

Pre-order copies available from our SHOP

in anChaucer Cameron is a poet and poetry filmmaker. Her poems have been published in various journals, magazines & online, including Under the Radar, Poetry Salzburg, The North, Blue Nib, The Interpreter’s House, Poetry Shed, Ink Sweat & Tears. Chaucer’s poetry-films have been screen-published in some of the growing number of journals and sites that are now accepting mixed media, such as Atticus Review.

She has performed at Ledbury Poetry Festival as part of a live performance combining British Sign Language poetry and video poetry (2017), Bath Fringe Festival Still Points Moving World performance writing exhibition (2014), and her poetry and monologues have been performed at the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham.

She has co-edited three poetry anthologies: Salt on the Wind – poetry in response to Ruth Stone (Elephant’s Footprint, 2015) The Museum of Light (Yew Tree Press, 2014), Nothing in the Garden, (Elephant’s Footprint, 2014).

Praise for In An Ideal World I’d Not be Murdered

“These poems ring out like gunshots in the night; they will wake you from your sleep. Yet despite its distilled directness, this book is lifted by both mystery and surprise. Listen for the songs emerging from the dark centre of this transformative work of experience and survival.’  Jacqueline Saphra.

The story behind Cut the Black Rabbit by Benjamin Cusden

Ben PhotoCan you tell me something about the story behind Cut the Black Rabbit?
I had a fabulous career in television as an editor – cutting TV programmes together to tight deadlines. I worked hard for twenty years and over time the stress started to take its toll. By the end I was drinking heavily and not sleeping for months on end. Finally my body and mind literally collapsed and after a very prolonged illness and various financial issues I found myself being evicted from my house in Cornwall where I’d taken refuge from London.

Continue reading “The story behind Cut the Black Rabbit by Benjamin Cusden”