Conversation With Tanner Pratt

Tanner Pratt is the author of the BR&S Prose Prize for his short story Crocodile in the 2022 issue of the magazine. We were able to catch up with him in the fall semester about his writing. Tanner started writing at a young age, “In elementary school, I was writing some poetry, but stopped until my Junior year in high school. I was influenced by one of my teachers to continue writing”. It wasn’t until college that he started to branch out from poetry to prose. The outcome was a tight and moving story created one month before submissions were due in February 2022. The self-edited Crocodile was a piece “most personal and important to me”, Tanner explained as we sipped our coffee before heading to class that Friday morning. 

When asked about how he approaches writing he said, “I have an idea and write it down, then I come back to it later and finish it when I’m in a writing mood”. The “writing mood” is such an interesting idea in a way. At first, it seems quite simple but then think of the opening from Moby Dick where Ishmael feels a “damp, drizzly November in my soul” (Melville 1). It’s a mood that he cannot ignore and must “get out to sea as soon as I can”. These sorts of moods are not just sad or happy, they lie deep in the soul and take hold of us and flow through us, but do not last forever. Tanner certainly captured the “writing mood”, in Crocodile.

Tanner is studying for his bachelor’s in literature with a minor in film at Idaho State. He read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina in high school and regarded that as one of his influences. More recently, he enjoys the poetry of Margaret Atwood and has grown an appreciation for Shakespeare. He lists Interstellar as one of his favorite films, saying “That movie was so groundbreaking to me”. Tanner is interested in teaching but wants to explore other possibilities including pursuing a master’s in literature. We are excited to see what Tanner produces next. 

Launch Party Article

ISU Student Encounters New Art at the Black Rock & Sage Launch Party

October 26, 2022
Joseph Simms, Freshman, Communications

Two students listen to a reading

Black Rock and Sage, Idaho State University’s student journal of creative works, celebrated the publication of its 2022 issue with a launch party featuring musical performances, readings, and a pop-up gallery of visual art by the magazine’s student contributors in the Pond Student Union Building on September 29.

As a new student at ISU, this was the first BR&S launch party I had ever attended. Even though there was an audience of over fifty, the celebration maintained a laid-back atmosphere. With light refreshments, live music, and readings of poetry and prose, the organizers had a pleasant evening planned for their audience.

ISU has supported a long tradition of literary magazines–from The Last Stop Before the Desert to Ethos to Black Rock & Sage, established by poet and faculty member Michael Sowder in 2002. 

Black Rock & Sage is published through the Department of English and Philosophy. When faculty member Susan Goslee began as advisor to the journal in 2007, she shifted its focus to be a campus magazine, meaning that it would only publish works by current ISU students. All senior editing positions are also held by students, and the staff’s aim is to deepen the quality and broaden the selection of art with each issue. 

When asked about the journal’s purpose, Goslee said, “Our goal is for Black Rock and Sage to publish the best student art–from literature to performance to painting to music and more–at Idaho State University each year.”

Editor-in-Chief Sarah Rick began the program with welcoming remarks and thanks to the magazine’s crucial supporters. While a few of the authors seemed to me nervous at first, they still confidently recited, with rhythm and rhyme, the words they penned.

Caleb Greenwell read his Ford Swetnam Poetry Prize winning “GG,” and Tanner Pratt read “Crocodile,” the BR&S Prose Prize Winner. Contributors E.E. Curtis, Carla Green, ​​Megan Schmid, and Angela Hayden also shared their poetry and prose. 

Artwork published in the 2022 journal, including Mariah Larson’s “Paper,” featured as this year’s book cover, were on display. The pop-up gallery also featured work by Cameron Kress, Yidan Guo, and Beauyn Nichols. Interspersed among readings were musical performances. 

The program included a ten-minute intermission, with musical background accompaniment provided by ISU music students, for attendees to converse with artists about their works.

A member of the audience, music major Sebastian Doren, explained that he was attending the event to cheer on his fellow musicians, mentioning that he also wanted to submit something for consideration in the coming year. 

At the end, Sarah Rick thanked the audience for attending and quipped, “Please buy our merchandise on your way out,” a joke that earned a few chuckles and summarized the purpose of the event: to celebrate, but also to raise awareness and support for the journal and its artists. 

As artists and audience members mingled afterwards, musicians gathered behind the piano. When I asked, they took turns listing the benefits of being featured by the journal: exposure, experience, connections, and challenge.

Claire Smedley, a singer and songwriter twice featured by BR&S, described the last benefit as a competition among music students to be the best composer and performer. With encouragement from professors, students who want to be featured push each other to create better content and higher quality art. 

Margaret Johnson, Professor of English and Director of Composition in the Department of English at ISU has taught English for 23 years. She has encouraged many of her students to submit work and several have had their pieces published. She explains the role of the journal well: “It gives students recognition as equals in the art community.”

After the party, Goslee further explained the purpose of the launch: “As ISU is such a commuter-heavy campus, an in-person launch party is an excellent way for student artists from a variety of disciplines to meet and admire each other’s work.”

After the preparation and work to produce a new creative piece, each artist must follow the submission guidelines particular for their discipline. Students can find the full submission criteria on the BR&S website, The website also provides an archive, the history of the journal, contact information, and a list of upcoming events. The BR&S Instagram account, @brs_isuejournal, is another great way to learn of readings and activities sponsored by the magazine. 

That evening, I met artists who told stories in all the ways of their knowing. I experienced feelings good, bad, bold and beautiful, demonstrated through sight, sound, and subtler senses of the mind. I’m glad I went to the launch, because I now feel all the more connected to this community of excellence.

Joseph Simms is a Communication major in his first semester at ISU’s Pocatello campus. 

Interview with Matthew James Babcock

We had the pleasure of talking with Writer Matthew James Babcock ahead of his poetry reading this week.  

Black Rock & Sage (BRS): What was the inspiration for this new poetry collection? Was there a specific theme you were interested in exploring?

Matthew Babcock (MB): I can’t say much about “inspiration”: I think I’m still taking my usual unpremeditated approach to writing, which for me, means writing as an ongoing dialogue, or conversation, with the most intriguing, disarming aspects I encounter in people and the world at large. This is my third poetry collection, and while I don’t see any particular themes in the collection, the four segments reflect distinct stages in my writing over the last fifteen to twenty years. The first section, “Spare Gold,” seems oriented toward free verse that favors an objective, philosophical view of the world.  The second, “Sublime Drift,” feels more serious, reflective, and meditative, and nature-oriented to me.  Clearly, “Rare Measure,” the third veers into buoyant satire, even playful cynicism at times, and the last, “First Echo,” is comprised of language experiments, wherein language, and not necessarily meaning, takes center stage. 

BRS: You have written in many different genres including nonfiction, fiction, poetry, and literary criticism. Do you approach each genre differently? Also, do you have one in which you consider your favorite or strongest?

MB: A colleague of mine once called me a “dabbler,” because I tend to restlessly hopscotch from genre to genre, and I don’t feel I have a strength or favorite. That title, once a criticism, I tend to wear now as a sash of distinction (in my own mind, anyway, perhaps as a means of spinning a fault into some kind of unique form of self-styled methodology). I compose prose at the keyboard, and poetry on my paper writing pad. But in every case, the technique is the same: grappling with language in order to produce meaning and vision, some kind of meaningful vision for the reader, and to make sense of my experience. It’s also a reflection of my teaching: if I’m teaching a semester of nonfiction, I tend to (but not always) write nonfiction with my students.  If it’s a poetry semester, I tend to give full way to poetry writing. Criticism: that’s an entirely different beast, and I’ve written criticism (my years of researching and writing about the life and writing of Robert Francis) only when I’ve felt an obsessive sense of mission. Francis had no book-length critical study, and I wrote that book to rectify that scholarly omission. I’m very proud of the critical scholarship I’ve produced, but it’s an extension of my job as a professor, and resides in a different category completely.

BRS: Your collection “Strange Terrain” is in four segments as well. Since you say your approach is “unpremeditated” it feels that this may be a mere coincidence rather than planned. How do you come up with the titles for your poetry collections? Is this something that takes a lot of thought or does it come easily as you are writing the poems? 

MB: I think the four sections in the two collections are merely coincidence, something I didn’t plan, certainly. The titles for the books and the sections have come, somewhat organically, from phrases in the poems themselves. “Hidden Motion” is taken from the poem titled “Hidden Motion.” I think I liked the general, evocative feel of the phrase: it seems multivalent, suggestive of various aspects of existence to which many people can relate. “Spare Gold” comes from a line in the poem “In Keeping,” in the first section. The second section, “Sublime Drift,” comes from a line in the poem “Cycle,” in that section, and “Rare Measure” was pulled from “I Realized Today.”  The last section, “First Echo,” I harvested from a line in “All Words.”  So basically, I just write the poems and hope, when I’m done, I can find some intriguing phrases to cull from the crop.  At first, I titled the manuscript, “Nameless Rain,” from a line in “On All the Park Benches,” but it sounded too cryptic and obscure, even the phrase was interesting. Ultimately, “Hidden Motion,” won out.