Rappahannock Review Poetry Editors: The exploration of possibilities in “Pendulum Theory” makes us read the poem almost as a thought experiment. Were you imagining the “she” here as a specific, living character or a hypothetical figure? Either way, where did she come from in your imagination?
Brandyn Johnson: The figure is hypothetical. I wrote the first draft after a class discussion on the subject of starting fresh. This interests me because the idea of a new week, a new month, or a new pay period seems to help us make plans. It’s almost as though we look at the day as a symbol, a cocoon on our calendar.
In addition to using a day to symbolize a blank slate of sorts, I think that the use of a planner is also symbolic. Yes, it literally exists to organize our plans, but I also see a planner as something used as a symbol. Aside from its function, it serves to remind us that we’re keeping organized and on top of things. That’s what I told myself when I used one for about two weeks. I failed to reprogram myself into one of those “highly effective students.” I wasn’t imagining the “she” in this poem as someone specific, but I imagine the situations to be somewhat universal.
RR: We’re intrigued by the distinction between “bubble gum distraction” versus “real world distractions.” Can you tell us more about the difference between these?
BJ: I was imagining the switch from popular radio to talk radio. Even if we couldn’t make out the words, I bet most of us could differentiate between radio stations based on muffled tone. Talk radio is serious, popular radio is not. Just as using a planner can make us assume that we’re suddenly more organized or mature, this figure is bringing that assumption with her to inform her radio preferences. In focusing on that, the figure loses sight of the fact that both options still offer distractions from whatever else we are doing.
RR: The poem seems to come to crisis in the moment of “some vague sea change,” and we’re compelled by the danger and possibility in that line. How did you arrive at that image, just before the end?
BJ: I wanted an image that was intentionally incomplete. On the subject of wanting to change, trying to jumpstart a process of change, and failing to ultimately change, I didn’t want to have all of the answers. Even speaking for myself, I can’t explain the “why?” behind every decision. “Some vague sea change” was my way of alluding to some internal churning.
RR: The experiences of loneliness and repetition so many people in the world have shared this year due to isolation, lockdown, and social distancing, make the poem feel particularly poignant. Did you write it during the pandemic, and if so how much of an influence do you think it had?
BJ: I wrote the poem before the pandemic, but 2020 certainly influenced revision. The pandemic is the ultimate blank slate on a calendar. As I type this, I am actively neglecting my pandemic home gym, which sits in the garage. I guess the pandemic helped me finish the poem.
RR: We understand you teach English at Black Hills State University. How has your experience as a teacher influenced your poetry?
BJ: Students keep me hip and fleek by teaching me all of the latest slang. In all seriousness, students keep a steady stream of ideas flowing before me. Class discussions have turned into lines or characters or poems. In the classroom, you learn about how others see you, or what they see, or what they choose to pay attention to; I think that sort of self-awareness affects the way that I write about myself. More than anything, my students give me hope. School is an optimistic environment, and sometimes I feel inspired to create simply from being on campus and sensing the energy of forward motion.
Brandyn Johnson’s work in Issue 8.1: