Spotlight Series: Morgan Russell
This interview was conducted by our Interview Editor, Nazlı Karabıyıkoğlu. We wanted to introduce our staff to our readers. Please meet our Creative Writing Editor, Morgan Russell. When she’s not waxing lyrical about the importance of storytelling, she writes poetry that can be found in Rabid Oak, Empty House Press, Apricity Press,The Rush, and mutiny! She is on twitter @conniptionns.
You studied Rhetoric at Georgia College & State University. Do you think that your degree opened up your mind and directed you to creative writing?
I was in college for five years, and I did a lot of different things that I would say affected my writing. Ancient World Civilizations, numbers of literature courses, performance classes like Performance of Poetry, speech classes, Spanish classes, and theory classes.
If I had one takeaway from everything I learned in those five years, it would be: every aspect of our lives impacts every other aspect of our lives. Learning things inside a vacuum impairs our ability to make connections and keeps us from broadening our knowledge. It also keeps us from being able to explain things to people who will never step foot inside that vacuum.
My favorite rhetoric course was Classical Rhetorical Theory, and, like any other theory class, it was hard as hell. If someone only looked at the more hysterical moments of exhausted and slightly intoxicated college students trying to use rhetoric [defined by Aristotle as using all available means of persuasion] they would see us trying to convince one another that cereal either was or was not a soup. They would surely think we did nothing of substance in that class, which is only partly correct.
We discussed the exigency behind arguments. Why does an argument, or piece of literature, need to exist? Every person you come across will have a different outlook on this, because there are so many philosophies which color the way we view the world. A Nihilist would say, who cares what you have to say? If you want to say it, say it. If not, don’t. The world would be a very bleak place if we were all Nihilists, so we should thank our lucky stars that we aren’t.
Arguing the necessity of your opinion isn’t to change the mind of someone who is vehemently opposed to your outlook or lived experience, it’s to let the world see your perspective. Your opinion, specifically yours, is important because it will not match up to another’s at all corners. The point of sharing part of you isn’t to change the world, it’s to change one person. If only one person saw the value in something you said, you’ve done a radical act.
Maybe putting your opinion in a manual of how to change the oil in a car is the only way you can conceive of getting your point across. For me, a lot of the time it's defining Classical Conditioning that my best thoughts come across. The point of rhetoric is to use each and every available mean to get your point across. There is not one toolbox for making an argument, you simply pick up what you find along the way.
Good writing isn’t about having everyone relate to what you write. You will never write something where everyone comes away positively changed by your piece. In fact, I wrote a poem on the subject of a broken vibrator and the responses are mixed between elation and disgust. You shouldn’t try to be vague enough in your writing so everyone can follow your breadcrumbs to how they’re supposed to react to a piece. Be specific to you, your character, your voice because it is in the details that we see you using all available means of persuasion. You want us to feel something. Showing us the correct path to the correct emotion takes away the joy of the journey. I wouldn’t want everyone to be delighted with my poem about a broken vibrator. I want the world to read it and feel something. That I’m an exasperated 20 something trying to deal with the death of a dear friend. That I’m a salacious young woman and simply a product of a generation with declining morals. Whatever someone feels is what they’re supposed to get from the piece.
So I guess if reading me waxing lyrical is too much, yes, it opened my mind. There are a handful of Greek/Latin words, suggested by Gorgias, Aristotle, and someone I’ve probably forgotten that have changed my writing for the better. However, it would take fifty pages to explain them all and how they impact me, so I’ll just write them here so you can look at them if you so choose: Katharsis, Kairos, Aretē, Communitas, and verbum mentis/verbum interius.
Do you believe that grief and sorrow bring creativity?
I believe they give you a need to connect with those like you and give others a way to sympathize with you, when they don’t have the means to do so. It is so easy to look at the cards you’ve been dealt and to be afraid of them. You don’t need to be. For example, if you did a tarot spread and got Death, you might be terrified, but there is no reason to fear Death—it doesn’t symbolize a literal death. It just implies the end of an era, big or small.
Grief and sorrow tend to come with pain. I would bet a lot of money that pain forges creativity. The pain that comes with grief and sorrow is too great for us to understand. We haven’t evolved far enough to deal with the pain of loss, only recognize it. People turn to different things to cope with this pain, and creativity is the most positive of all the options laid out before us.
Death should not invoke fear, but the Grim Reaper riding his horse toward us is nerve- wracking. On the surface, I don’t believe that the loss of those I love is something I’ve dealt with, but the amount of dreams I’ve had, where the woman who raised me comes to me and tells me I cannot follow her where she is going, tells me that somewhere, probably deep down, that I understand that Death is not the terrifying thing that I believe it is.
Death was an end to my era with this wonderful woman, but it was not the end of her. She exists in the hearts of those who love her. Her knack for storytelling is woven throughout the family. I use my creativity to further explore the things she taught me, and use them to help myself, my family, and those who also experience loss, cope with what they feel.
The creativity that comes from loss, grief, sorrow, and pain is the most transformative because the harbingers of these four horsemen are too great for us to understand on our own. It is through communion with others that we see the beauty within our pain.
Tell us about Marías at Sampaguitas. How do you feel about working for them?
I’ve worked for Keana for about eight months in November. I was most intrigued by the motto pagsulat sa mga bulaklak, “when writing on flowers.” One of my favorite poems is “Sea Rose” by H.D. and the premise of the poem is that a flower can be both aesthetically beautiful due to perfection, but there is also beauty in the flower that has become ragged from time and weather. I’m generally a soft person and love to write gentle and emotional things, but there are pieces that have their thorns that are stunted, flung about, driven by wind, and hardened by time. Both flowers are strikingly beautiful.
Can the spice-rose drip such acrid fragrance hardened in a leaf?
The fragile nature of our emotions are important to convey. In a world where the soft is “too cliche” I want to hear the soft pieces from the marginalized. A concept is not truly cliche until even the marginalized have been able to beat it into the ground. History has remembered many white, cisgender, heterosexual men. In fact, possibly the softest periods of writing I can think of are the Pastorals and the Romantics, and of all the literature classes I’ve taken, I can’t think of any other writers during this period than white men who presented themselves to history as cisgender and heterosexual. I truly believe that Marías at Sampaguitas is a space for writers who want to explore the softer sides of themselves, or even the less soft parts of their existence. It is a place to see the beauty and pain in the world, and to rejoice in it.
Of all of the literary journals I have worked for, Keana is probably the best EIC I’ve had. I feel less like I’m signing in to do never-ending tasks, and more like I’m building up something we both love. I would love being more involved with everyone I work with, and it’s hard to even find yourself logged in at the same time, what with all of our time differences. When I joined, there were three readers. Me, the current Poetry Editor, Kathy, and Grace, who is now a regular contributor. Kathy and Keana were my biggest inspirations in those first few months. Kathy made me want to be a better reader and Keana made me want to be a better person in general. I wanted to be a person that could be relied on, and also simply further discussions between readers.
I remember when Kathy was promoted to Poetry Editor and I was moved to Head Reader, I felt a sense of belonging. Where before I felt like I had to prove myself, Keana had assured me that I was someone she could rely on. We brought on more readers and Marías was growing more than we could have ever imagined. We still have so much more room to grow, and I knew I wanted to be a part of that. When Keana told us internally that she was creating a Creative Writing Editor position, I desperately wanted the position. Marías has become so intrinsic to myself, but we still have so far to go. We aim to publish one piece a day, and it’s rare we ever have enough submissions to reach this goal. As my everyday life moves forward, I hope that Marías will always be something I have. It’s an unfortunate part of life that magazines and journals have to end, and we’ve seen our number of now defunct journals give out their final cries just this year. I feel confident in knowing that the womxn I work with are some of the most brilliant and passionate people I know. While I see myself slush reading for other journals again in the future, when my new job starts to slow down; I don’t see myself ever leaving Marías until I’m forced out by circumstance. Each person I work with, at their core, wants to improve themselves and others. There is nothing more inspiring than working with them.
Nazlı Karabıyıkoğlu is the Interview Editor for Marías at Sampaguitas. She is an author from Turkey, enthusiastic traveler, Feminist activist, and Mother of four cats and countless animals all over the world. Full-time resident in Georgia, escaped from the oppression in Turkey. Has 5 published books in Turkish. For further information: www.nazlikarabiyikoglu.com.