Mackenzie Cook is a junior attending Cy-Fair High School in Cypress, TX. She has previously been published in Midwestern University’s literary and arts magazine Voices, CICADA, Blue Marble Review, and Lithium Magazine. She also is head editor for her high school publication, Voices In Ink, and is a member of the WITS Bayouth Collective. You can find her gushing over poetry, monarchs, and more on her Instagram, @absolutefluidity.
A Conversation between Mackenzie Cook and Lily Bechtold
1. Hi, Mackenzie! Thanks so much for talking to us today! Your poem in Issue Three, “queer love is a car crash,” is amazing. How did this poem begin? Was there one specific point of inspiration?
To be completely honest with you, I don't quite know how this poem began. I do, however, know that quite a lot of the inspiration came from trucks. It sounds silly, but trucks are a massive symbol of power and southern identity here in Texas and I wanted to explore that in an unconventional way that connected back to my own personhood as a queer teen.
2. The symmetrical rhythm and flow of “queer love is a car crash” underscores the strong emotions in it. Do you consider this your “typical” style, or do you tailor the rhythm and feel of your poetry to each specific work?
It’s funny that you ask that, as I have never really written structured or symmetrical poetry until quite recently. Upon finishing this piece, I hated it for a good while as I was wary of oversimplifying my message, but I have learned to love it since. I focus a lot on the rhythm in my poetry, but I wouldn’t say that there is much consistency to my methods as I really do let each piece take me where it will.
3. Your work has themes so reflective of adolescence while also maintaining a deeply personal perspective. Do you tend to write from your own viewpoint or do you draw from the teen experience more generally?
It’s a bit of a mixture of both.“queer love is a car crash” is a great example of this, as many of these images are from my own memories, yet they have been significantly altered to fit the narrative of the “I” in the poem. I don’t think I could ever truly encapsulate the teen experience in a single narrator, so I do draw a lot from my own voice when writing poems such as this.
4. The sections of “queer love is a car crash” that begin with “I imagine” do a fantastic job of amplifying the speaker’s presence and closing narrative distance in a way that makes this work feel deeply personal. How do you feel bringing a distinct voice so directly into the piece informs its overall impact?
I really wanted to use the speaker’s stanzas to bring another facet into this piece for the reader to resonate with. The images of the other characters are quite striking, but the narrator is there to pull you back in—to look at these really intense descriptions of strangers and dwell in them a little.
5. According to Italo Calvino, “what stirs literature is the call and attraction of what is not in the dictionary.” Every line of “queer love is a car crash” (and your other published works as well) contains really powerful imagery. Is evoking emotions or ideas “not in the dictionary” through metaphor or tangible imagery a recurring theme in your poetry?
Yes! When I write, I have this intense urge to influence people to see through foreign lenses and feel through borrowed hearts. Literature really allows a person to move past biases and appreciate another character’s reality.
6. When you create a poem, do you have a specific idea about what you want readers to take away from it? For you, how important is the accessibility of meaning or theme in your poems?
Very rarely do I have any specific intentions for my poetry. Thus, I quite like leaving readers to come to their own interpretations of my work as they can relate my poems to their own lives.
7. Would you give a different meaning to a poem you don’t intend to share than a poem you plan to publish? Do you think the purpose of poetry is defined by how we share it?
What a fascinating question. I feel a bit at a loss when it comes to answering this as I myself almost always tend to write my poems to be shared in some form or another. I have always felt a need to separate my poetry from more “therapeutic” writing as it is not the responsibility of a reader to be my therapist.
8. Your biography mentions that you are the head editor of your school’s literary magazine, Voices In Ink. How do you feel that this has impacted you and your writing?
Editing Voices in Ink was such a massive learning experience for me as my team and I tackled submissions from our student body of approximately 3,900. It allowed me to appreciate the voices and backgrounds of young writers and artists across campus that I would never have encountered otherwise. I have also learned to appreciate all that editors do for their publications and understand the submission process from an inside point of view.
9. What does being a “teen writer” mean to you?
For me, it all comes back to bravery. We exist in a culture pitted against literature, with stars like Kanye West being glorified by many as he proclaims an intrinsic dislike for books. Furthermore, America’s war against journalism can make one quite fearful for the future of free speech. We are a rising counterculture to all of that ignorance and hatred, whether we teen writers share in slam poetry, written word, or through local press. I’d say there’s nothing braver than that.