TAR: Let's begin by talking about your history as a writer. When did you start writing? What are your earliest memories of writing? When did you start writing with knowledge that you were a poet? What do you feel kept you writing? Was there a point in your life where you stopped and said "Now, I know I'm a writer?"
AP: I have my foot in two camps. My education is in visual art. I have no training in writing. I have taken no courses, attended no workshops. Writing was something I pursued on my own because it seemed the intuitive complement to what I was doing in painting and drawing. I began writing seriously in art school in the early 60's. Later, my graduate MFA thesis project combined painting and poetry. Despite that, I did not begin to send my work out to magazines until the mid 80's. While writing was important to me, I wasn't sure it would matter to anybody else.
I was drawn to poetry because it was compressed, direct, and able to get to the heart of a matter in striking ways and few words. Fiction was a rambling form that seemed to take forever to get to the point. Poetry could be bone-hard, keen-edged, incantatory. Also the process in writing paralleled that of visual art. It was revelatory. Starting anywhere, ideas connected and grew and suggested other connections. The result was not predictable. It was clear early on that the process was the real subject for both. The fascination with that process has never abated.
TAR: On your influences. Who were your biggest influences as a poet? How did these affect your writing style or your desire to write? What would you say is your favorite poem? What is it about that poem that makes it stand out to you? Do you aspire to write a poem of similar style, quality, meaning, transcendence? Or do you tend to detach yourself from the writing of the past?
AP: I do not have a favorite poem. I have poets that I like generally for a body of work rather than individual poems, and those favorites keep changing. Eventually, I guess I will like everybody for a while. I am interested primarily in contemporary poets because the writers and artists of an age are speaking to and from that age. That's news we can learn from. The dead Europeans and exotic traditions many spend so much time emulating spoke to their eras and to their cultures. To try to recreate them, or presume them models for all time, it is like painting from paintings in a museum.
What makes a poem or poet stand out for me is a quality of mind, an imagination that reveals other ways to expand the experiences we all share through similar bodies and sensory systems. There are only two problems in poetry- what to say and how to say it, but the ways and means are inexhaustible.
The people that first enthused me about the expressive power of poetry were Dylan Thomas who had THE voice, Ezra Pound and Charles Olsen for the scope of their vision and the power of long sustained sequences, and William Carlos Williams for plain language and the attention to the common. Since then I have learned from everyone.
But poetry is not just engendered by itself. It is a response to the whole of living, so I am equally indebted to non-poetic sources like the sciences, history, the flora and fauna of my yard, geography, weather, Jung, De Quincy, D'Arcy Thompson, Birds of America, Grey's Anatomy, the Presocratic philosophers, various unabridged dictionaries and a thousand other ancient and current influences too numerous to list.
TAR: On your writing method. When do you write? Do you set aside time to write or just write whenever time comes? What rituals (routines) do you follow when you write? Do you prefer writing on computer, paper, tape, etc.? What does this method allow you to do? How often do you submit your work? How do you decide which publications to submit your work to? What are your favorite journals that have published your work, and your favorites that
have rejected you so far?
AP: I write best in the mornings. I get up early -- 4 A.M. or before -- and go right to work before the obligations of leaving for a job take over. It's a wonderfully quiet time with no distractions. I will know quickly whether ideas are flowing and it's a writing day, or rather a day for editing, reading, or mailing things out. I start with ideas as they come, mostly fragmentary, maybe a line, a phrase or an observation. I write first in a notebook. If those notations start to develop into something worthwhile, I will then go to the computer because editing on it is so fluid it becomes part of the creation process. I am usually working on a number of pieces at once.
I am fairly prolific, so at any one time I may have many packets of submissions out to magazines. I do not knowingly send multiple submissions -- the same poems to more than one magazine -- I keep both paper and computer records of mailings. Sometimes I screw up, but I work hard not to.
I submit to everybody: the great, the near great, the brand new. The prestige of a publication is no guarantee that great work appears there. I do not sulk at being rejected. Journals have various editorial points of view, are constantly changing staff, may be doing theme issues, etc. You can't really intuit what they will favor and you can't buy a copy of every magazine out there try to puzzle it out. You just send your best work and wait.
Of course, I am particularly appreciative of magazines that have supported my work by taking hunks of it: Pleiades; Bellingham Review; Black Warrior Review; Kestrel; Agni; Green Mountains Review; Shenandoah; Marlboro Review, as well as those who have nominated pieces for the Pushcart Prize: Gulf Stream Magazine, The Montserrat Review; The Adirondack Review, mm Review, and The Mississippi Valley Review.
TAR: On web journals. What is your opinion generally of electronic journals such as The Adirondack Review? What do you think they offer that print magazines cannot? What are their drawbacks? Are there specific publications that have impressed you over the years?
AP: I love print. I also love web journals because they are immediate and vital and bypass some of the drawbacks of print such as the frequently lengthy waits for replies. Because of e-mail submissions, it is also easier to have personal contact with those editors -- the community that builds is a welcome and cohesive factor in web publishing.
From a typography standpoint, the web does not yet offer the textural richness of print, but that is because it's in its infancy. I cannot yet curl up with a web page the way I can with a book, but every medium has its uniquenesses and it usually takes time for a new medium to realize its real uses and find its best expression. The nice thing about our era is that we can have both.
TAR: On young writers. What is your advice to young writers? How do you recommend they get started?
AP: I am uneasy giving advice as if I had somehow arrived, but I can say that poetry for me is an inward pursuit and not a public act. Readings and the fashion of slams are after-the-fact and outside the real work of writing, They are in fact, not about writing; they are about performing, which I do not see as the logical, or even the desirable conclusion for poetry. I do read occasionally when asked, but poetry for me works best on the page. The experience of reading silently is richer than a linear delivery. It is the allegiance to one's own thoughts and ideas that give individuality and authenticity to one's writing. One needs to develop the ability to listen to your interior dialogs and trust their suggestions. Read everything with an open but critical intelligence. Find what matters to you. Edit and rewrite. Fine tune. Do not automatically presume an audience other than yourself or any expectation of publication. Work with an idea long enough for it to grow to its full height. Poetry is not a group project. Pound referred to artists as "the antennae of the race." Every writer helps to make it what it will be and the power of the single voice is the engine.
TAR: On poetry. What do you believe is the state of poetry? Is poetry still relevant? How so/why not?
AP: Well, it's certainly relevant to me, but I still see poetry as the acts of individuals. Poetry in the aggregate is harder to assess, but the fact that more people are finding it necessary and fulfilling is a cultural positive. It means a larger recognition of the values and lessons of introspection. I do not understand the laments not long ago about the lack of an audience for poetry, and now that it has one, hearing complaints about the proliferation of little magazines and writing programs. I am heartened by more writing, by more women represented, by more diverse experimentation. I am disheartened by the cult of reliance on formalities and the endless holy wars between one camp and another. Either dogma is stifling.
TAR: On the future. What do you hope to accomplish as a writer? What do you believe your writing offers/will offer to readers? How will the publication of your first book change your approach/goals/focus as a poet?
AP: I would hope that readers find in my work what I look for in others: an excitement in the confluence of ideas, a recognition of how rich thinking through words can be, how poetry can illuminate experience and reveal ways of expressing those situations that expand and enrich them in unexpected ways.
I was a late starter and my first book was a long time coming. In the seventeen years I have been publishing, I have had two chapbooks, some prizes, a ream of poems in print and online journals, National Endowment and Florida Arts Council Fellowships and five Pushcart nominations, but no full-length book until now. As a kind of endorsement of one's work, it's a satisfying milestone and an achievement that any writer hopes for, but I still feel like a newcomer. While I would like to see a second book follow the first ( I have several other completed manuscripts), I just continue writing and sending things out. Retirement in a few years means I can do it full time and spend more time drawing. I look forward to that.
ALLAN PETERSON holds degrees from Southern Illinois University and Rhode Island School of Design in Drawing, Painting, and Printmaking. He is currently Chair of the Visual Arts Department and Director of the Anna Lamar Switzer Center for Visual Arts at Pensacola Junior College, Florida
His new book, Anonymous Or, was winner of the Defined Providence Press competition, 2001. His chapbooks include: "Stars on a Wire," published by Parallel Editions, University of Alabama, Institute for the Book Arts, 1989, and "Small Charities," #7 in the Panhandler Press Chapbook Series, University of West Florida, 1994, and "Lucky For Us," Halftones To Jubilee, 1999.
A sampling of Allan Peterson's print publications include: Agni, Amherst Review, Another Chicago Magazine, Artful Dodge, Apalachee Quarterly, Beloit Poetry Journal, Black Warrior Review, Blueline, The Chatahoochee Review, Cimarron Review, Confluence, Fine Madness, Georgetown Review, The Gettysburg Review, Green Mountains Review, The G.W. Review, Indiana Review; Iron Horse Review, Kansas Review, The Laurel Review, The Midwest Quarterly, Mudfish, Negative Capability, New Delta Review, New Orleans Review, Nightsun, Notre Dame Review, Oregon Review, Passages North, Pennsylvania Review, Phoebe, River Styx, Salt Hill, Shenandoah, Slant, Sonora Review, Southern Humanities Review, Southern Poetry Review, Spoon River Review, among dozens of others.
His poems have appeared on-line in the following publications: Pif Magazine, poetrydaily, poetrymagazine.com, 2RiverView, threecandles, The Adirondack Review, Drexel Online Journal, Black Bear Review, Concrete Wolf, others.
Allan's poems have been included in several anthologies as well: Gulf Coast Collection of Stories and Poems, Texas Center for Writers Press 1994; Polyphony: An Anthology of Florida Poetry, Cathartic Press,1990; The Emerald Coast Review, West Florida Literary Federation, 1989,1990; The Southern Anthology, Lousiana State University 1995, 1996, 1997; The Emily Dickinson Award Anthology: A Commemorative Edition of the Best Poems of 1998; Universities West Press; Green Mountains Review, American Poetry at the End of the Millennium, 1999; Blueline Anthology, SUNY Potsdam, NY (forthcoming in 2003)
His awards and honors include a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry,1992, as well as prizes from Mississippi Valley Review, Negative Capability, Snake Nation Review,The Cape Rock, California Quarterly, Black Bear Review, The Gopherwood Review, Hayden's Ferry Review, and others. Peterson has been nominated five times for the Pushcart Prize, by Gulf Stream in 1989, Mississippi Valley Review in 1995, mm review in 1998, The Montserrat Review in 2000, and The Adirondack Review, in 2001)
Allan also served as Co-Editor for Half Tones To Jubilee, a national journal of poetry and short fiction, 1985-1995, and Poetry Editor for Bohemoth, a quarterly journal of Culture & Politics, 1994-95.