In the Field: Conversations With Our Contributors—Rebecca Johnson
“Day Comes and I Offer Light,” opens Volume 26 of Water~Stone. Your poem speaks to watching a parent grow older, and the emotional difficulties that accompany that, a longing to return to an earlier time. What was the impetus of this poem? Have you done other work focusing on this theme?
I would say that a lot of my work centers around the sticky fluidity of time. I feel that I am often overcome with this intense nostalgia that influences my writing heavily, and as I am growing into “adulthood,” I am often reflecting on my relationship to my mother. It’s funny to see the ways I find myself replicating her in my day-to-day. Whether it be the way I make a certain soup, or what record I might put on. I cling to the parts of her that she has shared with me, and I think often about my mother’s resilience. She is such a maker, a sculptor. She has made a life, and that is never an easy feat. In my later teen years, I experienced a traumatic relationship that left me changed. Throughout my processing of what had happened to me, my understanding, compassion, and sense of community has developed in different, more complex ways. And I suppose, in this poem, I am exploring what that means—the necessity of community, how to continue creating, post-trauma, and an attempt to reconcile the binary belief of two existences—the pre-trauma child and the post-trauma continuation. Throughout this, even if she may not know, my mother holds me in healing and in this, there is palpable wish to pause time, rewind, hold her hand a little longer. But she pushes me to continue growing, enjoying life as it is happening.
The line, “And I practice peeling the layers of myself, in replication,” creates this beautiful, if painful, image of self-discovery. What sort of surprises of self-discovery do you find as you write?
I feel like writing, for me, is an attempt at meaning-making, so I am constantly in the process of understanding. And that’s ongoing; I don’t know if that’s something that ever stops—the work of understanding, I mean. In that, I think writing opens me up for greater compassion. A lot of my work is me sifting through feelings of connection, community—how I fit in the world. Writing, and poetry specifically, has allowed me a vessel to explore. I think it used to surprise me how often certain images or themes would crop up in my work, but now I greet them like old friends.
You’ve been on both the artistic side and the production side of literary magazines. What balance do you strike between creation and production in your own work?
I was lucky enough to work on The Tower during my undergrad at the University of Minnesota, and I truly loved my time there. I felt so inspired being surrounded by other creatives while working on its production. Balance between creation and production can be tricky, of course everyone has that internal editor, and it can be hard to turn that off when in your creative space.
What are some literary or artistic works that inspire you?
There are so many! For poets I would say some would be Natalie Diaz, Mary Oliver, Saeed Jones, and Alice Oswald. I am often drawing inspiration from songwriters such as Ethel Cain, and artists like Hilma af Klint.
What other projects are you currently working on?
I am currently working on a short story that explores the idea of “unbecoming” through a lens of trauma response, compassion, and roadkill.
Rebecca Johnson is a graduate of the University of Minnesota, where she studied English literature and Asian Middle Eastern studies with a focus in Korean. She held positions at The Tower from 2022 to 2023 as an art editor, a poetry editor, and a marketing director. You can find her on Instagram @teeny.bee.