The Nonfiction editors, Rappahannock Review: Your piece, “Blackbird,” references the Paul McCartney song by the same name. Besides music, what other elements influence your work?
Beth Bilderback: Like most writers, I’m constantly trying to make sense of things that happen by writing them down, to the point where sometimes an event, or even a feeling, doesn’t feel quite real until I’ve described it. I started out as a poet, so often an image will come to me, or I’ll see or hear something, and words start to follow. In this case, “Blackbird” was the song I chose to memorize as a lullabye during the manic phase of my pregnancy, when I tended to be up at 3 a.m. alphabetizing the CDs. I hated all the traditional lullabies and became obsessed with finding a song I wouldn’t mind singing a thousand times.
RR: In “Blackbird” you write about your son, Eli. What kind of challenges does it present, if any, to write so openly about someone so close to you?
BB: I have a very strong connection to my son, and he tends to show up in my work fairly frequently, but at his age the last thing I want is to make him feel more self conscious. Which is to say that at this point in time I don’t show him everything I write.
RR: While writing, is there a central theme to your work, a recurring element that continues to arise?
BB: My main hope is that anyone who reads my work can find something to relate to in it. If I have a central theme, it’s not conscious.
RR: You mention Poe in the last paragraph. What was the connection between “The Raven” and “Blackbird” for you?
BB: To be honest, I was just trying to come up with a bird that’s black.
RR: In “Blackbird,” McCartney sings “Into the light of the dark black night” and in your essay, Eli’s “aura [is] too black.” What inspired you to connect your son to the songs the similarly-described night?
BB: Eli is an unusually sensitive person, who tends to think more deeply about things than a lot of other teenagers his age. This makes it hard for him to find the kind of meaningful friendships he really craves. He can go into a pretty dark place sometimes – and he does go for walks at night.
Beth Bilderback’s work in Issue 4.1: