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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, blackrockandsage.org. 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. 



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