Some of those journal entries center on the animals; others focus on the wails of a distraught infant. During training, his instructors would use the recording of a crying baby to simulate the kinds of interrogation tactics he and his fellow soldiers might endure as prisoners of war, Mackin explained. Then, one night overseas, they heard the panicked cries. “We had detainees that we had pulled off of various targets … their detention facilities were part of our camps, and we could hear interrogators playing the crying baby tape to them.”
Mackin, who called the tape “psychological warfare,” is hoping to explore “what became of the baby” in his new collection, weaving together tales about the life of the anguished child with his animal-themed stories. George Orwell’s allegorical novella “Animal Farm” and the Pink Floyd album “Animals” have been sources of inspiration, he said; so too has his Navy navigator experience. In his work relaying targets to incoming aircraft Mackin had to be brief, precise, and clear. The power of concision is central to his writing, he said, informed both by his military training and his love for poetry. Prior to joining the Navy Mackin studied with the poet Stephen Dunn, one of his literary idols, at a New Jersey community college. He later majored in English on a ROTC scholarship at the University of Colorado. (Poor eyesight ended his dream of flying jet fighters, but he flew as a navigator and later joined a special forces team in the Middle East for several tours of duty on the ground.)
With his poetry came “the beginning of what I tried to do with brevity and compression,” said Mackin. “I aspire to make every sentence as tight and as balanced as possible. And I think that comes from the rhythm of poetry, and the compression.”
Why not opt for nonfiction to capture real events? Mackin explained that while his work is grounded in fact, he turned to fiction ironically to make the material come alive. “The nonfiction I was writing was OK, but it didn’t capture what it felt like for me,” he said.
Ultimately with his work Mackin hopes to present war as “a more human endeavor,” he said, and to “describe an empathetic situation that hopefully the reader can relate to.”
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