Interview with Mackenzie Johnson

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English Senior Mackenzie Johnson recently won the Senior Writing Award. On an unseasonably warm day, we chatted about the award itself and Mackenzie’s inspiration while writing Abattoir, It Is A Small Creature, and It’s a Lark.

 

BA:     Can you describe the writing award you received?

 

 

MJ:     The Senior Writing Award is judged by three independent judges. In order to qualify, a writer must send in one academic paper, and two samples of writing in other genres, amounting to no more than 25 pages.

It was nerve-wracking even submitting the thing, but I’m so glad I did. Even typing out the award’s description made me nervous again.

 

 

BA:     Can you talk a little about how poetry influenced your prose and vice versa?

 

 

MJ:     I definitely started off a prose writer. I thought poetry was for greater minds than mine, or at least for those who had a unique way of looking at the world. But I eventually gave it a try, and have since come to realize that poetry is definitely a craft that must be honed over time.

Still, you can see little bits of my prose sticking out of my poetry–“It Is A Small Creature” is telling a story, and one that could easily shift from the poetic medium to the literary medium. And poetry has always been in my prose, though it’s since been trimmed back thanks to constructive criticism. Poetry is where a lot of the flowery trimmings of my short stories go, like a transplanted tree limb. Everything that I write can be used; it just needs to be in the right place.

 

 

BA:   Speaking of spaces, “It’s a Lark,” “It Is A Small Creature,” and “Abattoir” contain motifs of the distance between bodies and of bodies occupying the same space. In “It’s a Lark,” you write We’re standing across from each other / the vastness of space / yawning between us … Why aren’t we / crawling into / and enveloping one another.” In “Abattoir,” the Bibelot absorbs souls and stores them on a drive. In “It Is A Small Creature,” horror of encroaching anxiety comes to life as an other, occupying the same space as the host. What is it in this motif that keeps you returning to it?

 

 

MJ:     I like the idea of the body being something unfamiliar. It’s a sacred space for me, personally, so drawing the body away from preconceived ideas, whether it be giving a body to something that does not possess one, or taking one away from someone who does, is a very intriguing practice. Bodies, I think, help paint issues in a new light; should anxiety be considered a predatory thing instead of a fault of those who suffer from it? What does romance entail for two people? Is Dr. Bibelot still a person, or should we now consider him a machine? The body is so important to us, and I like to shake that up a little.

 

 

BA:     I was also struck by the cinematic qualities of “Abattoir.” I’m thinking of passages such as “She looked out over the landscape, spotting the caravan, and her left eye zoomed in on it with a quiet whir. ‘Three outside, one in the driver, no passenger,’ she murmured. ‘Mining supplies on board.’” and “An even stronger blast rocked the room, metal shrieking as it clattered to the floor from the lab tables, and Annette was flung over the ladder, landing on the small of her back. The ceiling buckled, and a metal rafter from the roof groaned and broke, swinging low and catching Isaac in the side, sending him flying toward the far wall.” Are there specific cinematic elements that you feel yourself drawn to? Or cinematic sources of inspiration that you turn to?

 

 

MJ:    I love cinema, so I absolutely had cinematic inspiration in writing Abattoir, though I may not have known it at the time. Visuals are interesting to me, and I’ve always loved giving a sensory overview of a situation to invite the reader inside. I have also always loved dynamic action scenes, particularly when a lot of things are in motion. I try to achieve the perfect balance of dynamism and comprehensibility in writing action scenes in my own work; I want people to be able to follow each throw of the spear without being overwhelmed by how many spears there are, if that makes sense. A good action scene is easy to follow, but contains enough engaging movement to keep the audience alert, and I guess I wanted to imitate that.

 

 

BA:     And what about literary sources of inspiration?

 

 

MJ:     I am a sucker for literature that depicts human struggle, especially in regards to mortality. I think Abattoir subconsciously gets a lot of its moral questions from Brave New World and Ender’s Game–what makes people “persons,” are only humans worthy of moral consideration, and so on.

I’m also madly in love with The Three Musketeers, so I think I borrowed a lot of grandeur from that. I will always see Tolkien as an inspiration to me because he has influenced so many aspects of my writing over the course of my entire writing career. He really inspired me to get in there and get my hands dirty building the world my characters will live in, because it makes the experience that much more tangible.

 

 

To read more of Mackenzie Johnson’s work, visit http://www.speakoutsaintrose.com and http://exacteyewriting.wordpress.com

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Black River Chapbook Competition

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“The Black River Chapbook Competition is a semi-annual prize from Black Lawrence Press for a chapbook of short fiction or poems. Entries should be between 16 and 36 pages in length. The winner will receive $500 and publication. Recent winners include: Lisa Fay Coutley, Amelia Martens, Charlotte Pence, Russel Swensen,  Nick McRae, Shane McCrae, Simone Muench, Blake Kimzey, Caleb Curtiss, Sam Sax, Philip Schaefer & Jeff Whitney, Meghan Privitello, Ruth Baumann, Jacqueline Doyle, and Nancy Reddy.”

http://www.blacklawrence.com/submissions-and-contests/the-black-river-chapbook-competition/

Ursa Major

MFA Graduate Jacqueline Kirkpatrick’s “Ursa Major” was published by 3Elements Literary Review!

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Upcoming Lecture in the Hubbard Interfaith Sanctuary

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Saint Rose Poetry

English 312: Poetry Writing Workshop
will read poems
this Thursday in the Hubbard
Interfaith Sanctuary @
4:30 as part of “Of Many
Paths: An Interfaith Art Show.”

Interview with Christina Romeo

Christina Romeo is a senior English major graduating this May. During a winter storm, we spoke about the Christina’s experience as an English major and a student at Saint Rose. Christina received the Progessor S.R Swaminathan Award on behalf of the English Department, and is a member of the English Honor Society and the Education Honor Society.

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Christina and her friends run the literary Magazine Speak Out. To see what they’ve written, visit: www.speakoutsaintrose.com

 

 

BA     In May you’ll be graduating with a degree in English. Was this your original intention when you enrolled at Saint Rose?

 

 

CR     At first, I was an English and Psychology Major with a Clinical/Counseling Concentration. The next year, I dropped Psychology and made it a minor, and then was in English Adolescent Education. During this past summer, I dropped education and my minor and became and English Major.

 

 

BA     Of the three paths you followed, the straight English seems the least directed in terms of how you answer ‘What are you going to do next?’ What was your motivation for the switch?

 

 

CR   I think, in the end, it all connected to wanting to serve others. I realized that having an English degree made me better equipped to think critically, make connections, and solve problems. You know, research skills. I also wanted to take more classes in the humanities—like political science, for example—and the BA in English allowed me the space to take those classes.

 

 

BA     Have you been able to act on your studies in political science?

 

 

CR     I was recently accepted to the International Human Rights Law Program at Lancaster University, but my options are still open right now. Specifically the MA in Political Science at SUNY Albany and the MPP/ MA Gender+Cultural Studies at Simmons College are still a possibility. My recent internship at the Legislative Women’s Caucus has been wonderful. I do a lot of background research for bills that the caucus wants to propose as well as compose small memos about why this bill should be proposed and put into law. I run all social media accounts, edit historical textbooks on women legislators and historical women firsts in NYS, write letters, and such.

The English Department prepared me and guided me towards wanting to work in public service because they too have always taught from their hearts. It sound super corny and cliche, but without their passion for their craft and always challenging me to connect literature to social, historical, and political contexts made me more aware of how we always have to think larger than ourselves in every aspect of our lives. They certainly made me care more, and that is why I see myself heading into public service.

 

 

BA     You have been very active within the campus community while at Saint Rose. Do you approach community membership in this same spirit of public service?

 

 

CR     I do! Public service is about serving your community and maintaining that same transparency. English Club in particular has taught me how to be a good democratic leader.

 

 

BA     What sort of qualities does a good democratic leader have?

 

 

CR    I guess I can explain this through how English Club has been run for all these years. We don’t have a set hierarchy. All decisions are made with the E-Board and members unitarily. Everyone has their fair share in how each event will be run and we make sure that every member, no matter their title, has an equal share in the decision. It’s about being transparent, humble, honest, and human. Not about having more power than the person next to you, because in the end you’re all here because you have the same purpose and passion.

 

 

BA     What kinds of decisions does the English club make in this way?

 

 

CR    So when it comes to how our events are organized, we plan the details of an event—like the Vagina Monologues—throughout the month all the way down to the finest detail about what color tablecloth we want. We added new follow-up events this year due to the interest of our members. They’re the future of English club, so we made their ideas work. Usually events are planned through E-boards with some suggestions from members. We start from the bottom-up and that’s why our events have a different, home-like feel to them. Another way we use this collective leadership style is through how we run elections. We promote honest conversation, perhaps because of the size of our club, about the next executive board instead of having speeches and a vote.

 

 

BA    So, you’re advocating for a leader who listens to all members including, in some cases, the person running for the same organizational position.

 

 

CR     Yes.

 

 

BA     Have you come across similar examples of this leadership style during your academic studies as an English major?

 

 

CR     Melville taught me to question authority that doesn’t exhibit this type of leadership style. In “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” the walls dividing workers, the unnecessary isolation, and the allocation of importance showed me the authorial controls that are not in service to the greater community.

(Christina opens a copy of Bartleby the Scrivener and shares the photos on the first pages.)

So these 5 photos all come one after another before you begin reading “Bartleby the Scrivener.” The photos gave me a sense of the isolation of labor and self during this time period. With the empty desks, it’s a very compact environment and separated from the rest of the office because they are put in this box. The next photo spread was a prison set right in New York City which contrasts to the last photograph of New York City and one of the bustling city streets. This juxtaposition interested me because with the organization of the desks with then the organization of the cells…it just made me realize how segregated people were back then just as they are now. Also, how the writing desks and the prison cells, of course not the same but both of the constructions had the same type of idea. They both want to confine a person to a space to then be watched over and observed. With the two photographs of the same city but with drastic differences of people, it made me realize that spaces are purposely separated to represent where you should and should not go. It really resonated with the text and helped me understand the story better.

 

Congratulations!

The College of Saint Rose Honors Convocation celebrated the achievements of the college’s brightest students last Saturday. The English department recognized five students for their outstanding achievements!

Hannah Lee received the Outstanding Senior in English Award!

Zackary Petker received the Outstanding Senior in English: Adolescence Education Award!

Christina Romeo received the Professor S. R. Swaminathan Award!

Mackenzie Johnson received the Senior Writing Award!

Alicia Sharp received the Outstanding Graduate Student Award!

Congratulations again to this year’s reward recipients!