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
About the Book
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.
“This elegiac collection, largely about the death of the author’s mother and grandmother, is filled with breathtaking moments of understated humanity. The catalog of items found beneath her deceased mother’s bed included ‘dozens of refrigerator magnets’ with ‘no metal to adhere to,’ driving home how purposeless our possessions are when we are no longer there to animate them. In these small moments, Johnson subtly brings forth the pathos of losing the people we have loved. Grief, well-trod territory though it can be, is made wholly original here with Johnson’s narrative poems, and her fiction writer’s eye for salient detail. ‘When someone is dying in a small / Southern town, the past comes / back and visits – bringing food.’ What a delight to know the people she has loved, and to feel how much I wish I had known them.”
—N. West Moss is the author of the memoir Flesh & Blood: Reflections on Infertility, Family, and Creating a Bountiful Life (Algonquin 2021), and the short story collection The Subway Stops at Bryant Park (Leapfrog 2017). Her middle grade novel is forthcoming from Little, Brown.