In Conversation with Cheryl Moskowitz – Maternal Impression


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.


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 an innovative poetry and electronics performance series in North London.

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