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Interview with KENNETH JOHNSON

What writers have inspired you?

There are, of course, too many to mention, but here are a few. Octavio Paz, for his

sense of history and marriage of words to form—he is like a sculptor. Lawrence

Ferlinghetti, for his storytelling and brilliant imagery. Nikki Giovanni, for her passion and

politics. Adrienne Rich, for the power and importance of every word (which is something

I am working on in my writing). I’m inspired by Kevin Young’s point of view and way with

words. I admire the work and strength of Aubri Kaufman and Joy Harpo. Georgette

LeBlanc’s descriptive writing is truly inspiring. I am from New Orleans and I have an

affinity for all things Acadiana.

What projects are you currently engaged in?

I am working to finish several paintings started this year while putting the finishing

touches on a chapbook to submit to a small publisher. I will continue to edit these

poems. I want to be certain I have a theme that I can articulate and is evident to a

reader. Subjects of my work can be pretty random. I embrace randomness but I’m not

certain that will be evident to a reader of a collection of poems. I grapple with the importance of theme.

How has the year changed your work as an educator?

This year has been a challenge— "a blessing and a curse,” as they say. It hasn’t been

easy on anyone except, perhaps, those with power and privilege. I’ve had to be more

flexible and more accepting when things don’t go as planned. The work has not

changed, but the approach and delivery of instruction has changed. It has been difficult

for students to remain engaged and enthusiastic about their education during this

difficult year. However, I am constantly impressed with the adaptability shown by

students and colleagues. In that sense, I am blessed.

How have you maintained your artistic skills during lockdowns?

This too has been a challenge. It’s easy to think “Yes, now, I have all this time!” Ha!

Some days are better than others. I find it’s easy—for me—to fall into a kind of malaise.

I’m not good with maintaining an artistic schedule or blocking out time or goal setting,


Honestly, I do the best I can.

Do you have any goals for the New Year?

I don’t have goals that are mapped out or on a list. I know people who work this way,

but it’s not my strength. I will continue to work on projects and honing skills. In my art, it

is always about trying to find/express truth. In my writing, I’ll continue to work on

exploring various themes and aspects of our individual and collective human condition. I

know I need to work on economy of style. I’ll also continue to improve my Spanish

language skills. I’ve written poems in Spanish. I love the language and have studied many years.

Is community important to your writing? Are there any magazines or small

presses that you feel a strong attachment to?

Community is important because without it we can become isolated and our work can

be overly self-aware. It’s important to engage in community because we gain insight to

points of view other than our own. If we create art with the intent of having another, or a

public, experience it, feedback on how it’s perceived is valuable for an artist. This is

opposed to one who says I create for me, no one else.

It seems the small press industry is strong. I think a lot of new ones have been started

during this pandemic year and that’s exciting. I like Ploughshares, Thorn Lit Magazine,

and The White Review from London. I think Nine Arches Press does a great job and I

enjoy their Under the Radar magazine. I love making new discoveries as I did with

Splintered Disorder Press. I’m impressed with SDP. I’m a big fan!

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