Margo Berdeshevsky, born in New York City, often writes in Paris. Her recent poetry manuscript was finalist for the National Poetry Series, 2015. Her published poetry collections are Between Soul & Stone and But a Passage in Wilderness (both from Sheep Meadow Press). Her book of illustrated stories, Beautiful Soon Enough, received Fiction Collective Two’s Innovative Fiction Award (University of Alabama Press). Other honors include the Robert H. Winner Award from the Poetry Society of America, a portfolio of poems in the Aeolian Harp Anthology #1 (Glass Lyre Press), the & Now Anthology of the Best of Innovative Writing, and numerous Pushcart prize nominations. Her works appear in Poetry International, New Letters, Kenyon Review, Plume, The Collagist, Tupelo Quarterly, Gulf Coast, Pleiades, Prairie Schooner, and Cutthroat, among others. In Europe her work has been seen in The Poetry Review (UK), The Wolf, Europe, Siècle 21, & Confluences Poétiques. A multi-genre novel, Vagrant, and new poetry collections are at the gate. She may be found reading from her books in London, Paris, New York City, or somewhere new—in the world. Her “Letters from Paris” may be seen at Poetry International. For more information, kindly see: http://margoberdeshevsky.blogspot.com/.
Her story, "A Winter's Story," appeared in Issue Seventy-Two of The Collagist.
Here, she speaks with interviewer Dana Diehl about photography, love (or lack of), and cross-genre art.
Where did this story begin for you?
I’ll answer this “slant,” so to speak, in the way Emily Dickinson suggested that a poet, “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.”
I once had a lover who complimented my best friend because she had seven children. You see, he said, she is a real woman. To her credit, my dear friend stood up and slapped him. (And the relationship with him did not endure.)
I could start by saying that I’m a woman who decided very young to not be a mama. Why? A choice. A road, taken. So in one sense I’ve been interested in mothering and/or not . . . for a long while. The tribal imperative that humans are meant to perpetuate the tribe. And, I’ve been interested in the expectation that all women are meant to be mothers, and good mothers, of course. Compassionate mothers. Protective mothers. And that all children are expected to be loved, of course. They must be. That is a human imperative. A human right. But they are also expected to be loveable.
That said, as one way to enter this conversation: I also once had a terrible cat. I love cats. I love what lives. I love living. I did not want to do harm. But I had to wonder if he was not some demonic force sent into my life to challenge my kindness or torment me.
From such soil, stories are seeded.
In addition to being a writer, you are a gifted photographer. You often include your photographs with your writing. What draws you to photography? What inspired you to merge your two artistic interests into single projects?
As a creative person, I like thinking outside the box. There is a wonderful line in the Tom Stoppard play “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” as the characters are contemplating death, and being left in a coffin, and one says, (to paraphrase), but you'd be in a box. Think about it, living your life in a box, I mean you'd never get out, would you?
I often feel that way about writing or offering work in a single genre. To be stuck in a box. More and more, I come to like functioning in the multi-genre or cross genre. Being a “collagist,” I might say. And so, yes, I have liked to merge photographs or montages with some of my written works. Embedded, or surrounding them. For me it is one way to invite left brain-right brain receiving. Not as show and tell, but as a way to expand the metaphoric, inherent, or implied.
I’m not speaking here of imagism as construed by Pound, seeking only “hard light and clear images.” But I’m interested in metaphor. Linguistically and imagistically. Photography, while it can certainly be documentary and uber realistic, and illustrative, and haunting as such . . . can also be impressionistic, or expressionistic, can also be part of the poetic lexicon. Can also be another way of telling it slant. And that draws me often, these days. The world I wake in is so often painfully realistic. Filled with what haunts me. What haunts us. I want to address what haunts, but also I’m searching for ways to look with another eye or lens, so for me, photographing is one way to force my vision further.
Sometimes, one image is sufficient. Sometimes, words do the heavy lifting, and anything more would be superfluous. But sometimes, I want to stretch the edge, even erase the edges, open the box and let forms overlap, or whisper to one another, to me, to the one who receives the works I can offer.
Your story ends with a black and white photograph of two baby dolls. Please explain your choice to pair the story with this particular image.
No. To explain would defeat the choice. I believe it is a good choice. The rest should belong to the reader.
The mothers and children in this story do not have happy relationships. There is an uneasiness, a loathing between them. We are used to seeing depictions of parent-child relationships that are perhaps fraught, but grounded in fierce love. “A Winter’s Story” doesn’t follow this common storyline. What interests you about the relationship between the woman and her “devil child”?
Allow me to ask you to return to your first question and my response above. That was a beginning. To say more . . . no, it’s not a common storyline, I admit. But it both frightened me as a subject and seduced me to write it. What happens to the lone and lonely in a world when they are not healed by love? What happens when/if they are unable to love the very one, or the very element that might heal them? What happens if the object that should inspire love is inherently not to be loved. If it is experienced as evil. What is a “devil child?” Is it merely, or definitely the “shadow?” How has civilization, have we, will we. . . deal with what is detestable in our world, or in ourselves, or in the very thing we give birth to, or adopt, presumably to love?
What are three books you could recommend today?
There is a novel that the wonderful science fiction author, Theodore Sturgeon, gifted me with many years ago. It is called The Book of The Dun Cow, by Walter Wangerin Jr. It speaks of a rooster, Chaunteclear, confronting a monster of evil long imprisoned beneath the earth. I’d find it a powerful book, today. Parable, or fantasy, a worthy read.
As a poet, and I am that, as story teller, photographer, woman, wanderer . . . I'd reread “King Lear.” Because we are each so lost on the heath, and terrified of being unloved. And “Macbeth,” because the greed and demand for political dominion and power is so much, too much with us. Everywhere. Now, And now. And now.
And a wonderful new book has just been published by Shakespeare and Company in Paris. Shakespeare and Company, Paris: A History of the Rag & Bone Shop of the Heart. Because that bookshop has been a home to me and a place where the ladders start, for many years. This brand new book tells its story—as it was and is, and “slant.”
What is next for you? Are you currently working on any projects?
Yes. Always yes. I have been photographing stones. Giant, protective, dangerous, beautiful stones. I have a new collection of poetry which keeps adding and eliminating new fingers and toes. It was a finalist for the National Poetry Series, last year. But as Collagist editor, Gabriel Blackwell, says so well, Life is cruel just where art is at its kindest. And so the book is homeless, waiting for cover. And, there is a new collection of works, prose poems or stories (crossing genres..., ) Dark Muse / Can Dance. Some have been first published here in The Collagist. They are morphed with my photographs. Yes. “A Winter’s Story,” published here, is one of them. This new book is now standing at the gate, hand on the latch. Along with a multi-genre novel called Vagrant. Because I am. It is. Vagrant. A bit of an alien in a world I sometimes know, and sometimes am lost in. And I have just written a new poem that I rather like: “Whose Sky, Between (...for Hiroshima day, and more...)”
“The artist, and particularly the poet, is always an anarchist in the best sense of the word. He must heed only the call that arises within him from three strong voices: the voice of death, with all its foreboding, the voice of love and the voice of art.” —Federico Garcia Lorca