Friday, December 29, 2017

#1 A New CRC Blog Series: BACKSTORY OF THE POEM . . . Margo Berdeshevsky's "12-2014"

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***This is the first in a never-ending series called BACKSTORY OF THE POEM where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific poem and how the poet wrote that specific poem.  Links to other BACKSTORY OF THE  POEM features are at the end of this piece.

 Backstory of the Poem

“12 – 2014”
by Margo Berdeshevsky 

The poem “12-2014” was first published in New Letters/ 2015, and is one of many great poems in Margo Berdeshevsky’s poetry collection Before The Drought published by Glass Lyre Press on September 15, 2017.  Below is a scripted interview conducted between the CRC Blog and Margo Berdeshevsky via Facebook and email.

Where were you when you heard about the Missing Air Asia Flight? (Right) What was your reaction?  How did you hear about it?  or did you read about it?
I remember hearing the news report immediately after the flight was lost, and then in the following days and weeks, I could not stop following the news that had no answers...that told of the missing craft and its freight of souls. With a profound and sudden jolt I realized I had to speak to it, and of it.
I do have a backstory to the month of December and what was lost in that particular sea ten years earlier. (I had been called to help a dear friend in serving in a survivors clinic in Sumatra after the tsunami there in 2004, when so many lives were swallowed by those same dark waters.) Above Left.
And, I also have a personal story. The end of December has been for decades a time of memory for me, as my own mother passed on a Christmas Eve, many years ago. So I am always conscious of a polarity of birth and death at this time. (Right Margo, age 14, with her mother).

I’m conscious of the significance of birth of the Christ and its story, and of death in my own memory, and then, in the global stories that have come to live with me as well.  Adoration of the Shepherd attributed to Gerard Von Honthorst

Where were you when you started to actually write the poem ?
That’s hard to recall. I was probably at my table staring at a coming dawn and listening to the news,  too early and too late. But the fact of the event connected immediately with the many points I have spoken of above, and eventually, I wanted to write.
 I was a bit confused about the "Ten December moons since" because I am assuming you are referring to ten years before?  so it would be 2004 and I couldn't find any missing flights for that year?
As I mentioned late December 2004, (ten December moons before the flight of 2014 and this poem) I had a call from my dear friend, (Robin Lim, Left)who is a midwife in Indonesia. She does essential work in that part of the world, for natural births, and for disaster survivors and refugees. (She is presently offering her clinic in Bali to house refugees from the simmering and smoking volcano, Mount Agung there.)
That year, 2004, ten years before the poem of 2014...she called me on the morning after the 2004 tsunami. The tsunami and its devastations had come on December 26, the day after that Christmas. And she said simply “I need you.” We have known one another for 30 plus years, and so the request carried my instant “yes.” I was on a flight to meet her and help as I could. She wanted me to write about it and to help soothe those who remained.  (Above Right:  epicenter of Indian Ocean Tsunami and associated aftershocks in French)
Eventually, poems from that month filled and flooded my book, “But a Passage in Wilderness,” (Left) (Sheep Meadow Press/2007.)

How many drafts of this poem did you write before going to the final?
That’s a question I can’t honestly answer. I remember a flood of words, and then an effort to shape and control them into the stanzas you see. Sometimes, my notebooks have it. Sometimes they are lost. Sometimes, the keyboard says please come here and be ready. That’s a work process that I don’t calculate. I don’t count drafts and often I don’t keep them. If it is time for a poem, particularly an “occasional” poem, I allow it. because it has risen from a particular moment in time. Then I live with it, and shape and reshape if I need to. When such a poem becomes part of a book, then I may edit again. (That’s really all I know to say.)

Were there any lines in any of your rough drafts of this poem that were not in the final version?  And can you share them with us?
No, I don’t think so. This poem seemed to tell me what it wanted, and I allowed it to speak and allowed myself to speak through it. I do rewrite in days and/or months that follow many of my poems, but in this case, no.

Do you have images of your rough drafts especially with all your red pen marks (if any) that you made?
Ah, no, I don’t do that. I suppose archivists might like me to...but no.

I think you are referring to a specific passenger in "wedding rings/ deep[ in their bellies. I remember a woman whose fiance was on the flight.  She was an American living in a different country.  Is this correct?  if not can you tell me what you are referring to? 
Actually, no, I am not referring to one specific woman...there were so many...but the image for me was and remains very strong, that the drowned (and their wedding rings) all became food for the hungry denizens of the deep. Food for the waves that followed.  And so they fed, and the rings went to the fish and the waters, along with the all remains. (Above Left rescuers searching for victims of the crash)
So my reference is both to that woman, yes, but as well to those I mentioned lost in the tsunami that captured so many, almost exactly ten years earlier. And, I might’s a reference to events that swallow each  of us, along with such small tokens of the lives we have lived, (such as a wedding ring.) Above Right - photo attributed to Margo Berdeshevsky.

I feel like this is an elegy for all those passengers who lost their lives on that flight?  Do you agree?
Indeed. yes.

What do you want readers of this poem to take from this poem?
Memory is an odd beast. It may haunt us. It may enfold us. And sometimes it is a tapestry of images that we try to hold, like holding love when it, like water, cannot really be held. But we have a need to remember—in these so difficult days. To remember specifics and the larger fabric, and to remember what we have lost, because that is also what makes us human. (Above Right Remembering Keats attributed to Margo Berdeshevsky)
The sage Santayana is often quoted as saying “he/she who is without a history is destined to repeat it.” When it comes to recalling losses, I try to weave specifics with the vulnerability of our humanity. We are so vulnerable. A body is vulnerable. It can die. That is its reality. And we always have been the real, to the imagined, to the devastations, and to the honoring of what we (may) have survived. (Left George Santayana)
My friend, the poet L. Lamar Wilson (Right) always ends his e mails to me with this quote: “Memory is a selection of images, some elusive, others imprinted indelibly on the brain. Each memory is like a thread, each thread woven together to make a tapestry of intricate texture. And the tapestry tells a story, & the story is our past.”-- Kasi Lemmons, "Eve's Bayou"

There are seven to eight stanzas in this poem - which stanza was the most emotional of you to write and why?
I don’t have a way to answer that. The poem hopes to be emotional for its reader. For me, I followed the threads that I could. I followed to find a way to the page and eventually to a poem that I hoped would speak both for my own vulnerability, and for the specific event of the lost flight that had no resolution for so many, because its victims were not to be found. But imagined...yes.

Anything you would like  add?
I hope the poem may do all the rest. (And the book, Before the Drought, whose pages hold it.)


[Dec. 29, 2014...Missing Air Asia jet Probably Sank...]

A hundred sorrows under a single sail...  —Kuan Hsiu 832-912—(translation by J.P. Seaton)

Ten December moons since
another flotilla of coats and dresses  
in the same south-east sea,

its retreat that emptied beaches  
its strike when the eager
ran for all the sudden fish

its wave that hurried forward  
and the hungry water ate —

Page one: another meal   
for the gullet of a starved sea  
page two another winter

fed to what ravenous minor
Triton?  But the drowned float
only to page one now—
syllables stacked for burning—

Night-boats, when
fishes might later be netted,
later, with wedding rings
deep in their bellies 

swimmers who might have blessed, 
eyes with not a question left  
but whispers for
gods who have none   

when waves and blind clouds
mouth expected sentences   
~ a brave New Year ~
all blessings.      

MARGO BERDE-SHEVSKY, born in New York City, often writes in Paris. Her newest collection, Before The Drought, is from Glass Lyre Press, available in late September 2017. (In an early version, it was finalist for the National Poetry Series. Berdeshevsky is author as well of Between Soul & Stone,(Below Right)  and But a Passage in Wilderness (Sheep Meadow Press.)
Her book of illustrated stories, Beautiful Soon Enough, (Below Left) received the first Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Award for Fiction Collective Two (University of Alabama Press.) Other honors include the Robert H. Winner Award from the Poetry Society of America, a portfolio of her poems in the Aeolian Harp Anthology #1 (Glass Lyre Press,) the & Now Anthology of the Best of Innovative Writing, numerous Pushcart prize nominations.
Her works appear in the American journals Poetry International, New Letters, Kenyon Review, Plume, The Collagist, Tupelo Quarterly, Gulf Coast, Southern Humanities Review, Pleiades, Prairie Schooner, among many others. In Europe her works have been seen  in The Poetry Review (UK) The Wolf, Europe, Siècle 21, & Confluences Poétiques. A multi genre novel, Vagrant, and a hybrid of poems, Square Black Key, wait at the gate. She may be found reading from her books in London, Paris, New York City, or somewhere new in the world.

001  December 29, 2017
Margo Berdeshevksy’s “12-24”

002  January 08, 2018
Alexis Rhone Fancher’s “82 Miles From the Beach, We Order The Lobster At Clear Lake Café”

003 January 12, 2018
Barbara Crooker’s “Orange”

004 January 22, 2018
Sonia Saikaley’s “Modern Matsushima”

005 January 29, 2018
Ellen Foos’s “Side Yard”

007 February 09, 2018
Leslea Newman’s “That Night”

008 February 17, 2018
Alexis Rhone Fancher “June Fairchild Isn’t Dead”

009 February 24, 2018
Charles Clifford Brooks III “The Gift of the Year With Granny”

010 March 03, 2018
Scott Thomas Outlar’s “The Natural Reflection of Your Palms”

011 March 10, 2018 
Arya F. Jenkins “After Diane Beatty’s Photograph, “History Abandoned"

012 March 17, 2018
Angela Narciso Torres’s “What I Learned This Week

013 March 24, 2018
Jan Steckel’s “Holiday On ICE”

014 March 31, 2018
Ibrahim Honjo’s “Colors”

016  April 27, 2018
Beth Copeland’s “Reliquary”

017  May 12, 2018
Marlon L Fick’s “The Swallows of Barcelona”

018  May 25, 2018

019  June 09, 2018
Alexis Rhone Fancher’s “Stiletto Killer. . . A Surmise”

020 June 16, 2018
Charles Rammelkamp’s “At Last I Can Start Suffering”

021  July 05, 2018
Marla Shaw O’Neill’s “Wind Chimes”

022 July 13, 2018
Julia Gordon-Bramer’s “Studying Ariel”

023 July 20, 2018
Bill Yarrow’s “Jesus Zombie”

025  August 01, 2018
Seth Berg’s (It is only Yourself that Bends – so Wake up!”

026  August 07, 2018
David Herrle’s “Devil In the Details”