Melissa C. Johnson
Melissa C. Johnson recently relocated from Richmond VA to State College PA where she serves as Associate Vice President and Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education at The Pennsylvania State University. She earned a BA in English and Fine Arts from the College of Charleston, and an MFA in poetry and a Ph.D. in twentieth-century British Literature and Women’s Studies from the University of South Carolina. Her first chapbook, Looking Twice at the World, was published by Stepping Stones Press and the South Carolina Poetry Initiative. Her work has been published at NELLE, Waccamaw, Borderlands, The Cortland Review, The Northern Virginia Review, and elsewhere. In 2016, she was a contributor at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference.
Photo Courtesy of Vista Professional Studios
Cancer Voodoo grew out of the experience of my mother’s illness and death from lung cancer and my own attempts to come to terms with that loss. I was trying to write about the experience of watching a parent die, an experience that most people will have, but also about the particulars of my mother’s life and death and her family history. There’s a kind of madness of grief — the way that it unhinges and unmoors — that I’m trying to capture. I’m also trying to get at how illness and death re-arrange and collapse time — how they create a milestone that all other events gather around. With some of these poems, I constructed a loose, scattered form to get closer to the way that grief implodes and dissolves. In others, tidier and more traditional structure becomes a way of representing the control I’m trying to find or to create as I experience and reflect on grief and loss. One of the main themes of the sequence is a search for solace in the absence of religious belief. Another is the inability to fully know others, even those whom we love the most and the longest.