Tuesday, March 3, 2009

An interview with Alexandria Peary

by Beth Ann Miller

Poet Alexandria Peary, who will be reading at Chester College on Wednesday March 4th, gave us some of her time this week to answer a few questions. For students aspiring to "make it" in the art world, her answers are both helpful and inspiring.

SO Good: Do you have a specific creative process?
Alexandria Peary: Buddhism. The mindfulness practice of watching the breath (in order to write, obtain new ideas, make contact with the self.) This process is something I’m currently teaching at Daniel Webster College in a really atypical course called “Overcoming Writing Blocks.” This course teaches students meditation and other mindfulness practices to develop greater fluency with their writing.

SG: What helps you when you are "stuck" creatively?
Equanimity—or the Buddhist term for accepting whatever arises. What is, is. I am fortunate in that I haven’t really been stuck creatively for awhile. However, I went to the Iowa Writer’s Workshop when I was 22, the result of which was a 5-year, painful block. That’s probably why I designed and am teaching that writer’s block course and why I am moved by students who are stuck with their writing. I also tend to keep multiple writing projects going, so there is nearly always something that draws me into its circle. I also believe it’s important to rest—both physically and mentally—as a writer. Good, creative times include seemingly fallow stretches in which I am gathering material from life and art (often visual art).

SG: Do you remember your first publication? What was the piece and where was it published? What did you do when you found out it was accepted?
AP: I was sixteen years old when I had my first poetry publication. The University of Maine at Orono (I grew up in central Maine) sponsored a contest for its poetry center and invited submissions of poetry by adults, teens, and children. I received first place for the teen category for a long (long in line and length) about my brother… in four scenes during our life—very solemn-like and a bit of an echo of T.S. Eliot, who I must have been reading at the time. I recall writing the poem in a single sitting on my canopy bed while having the flu. At the time, the writing of the poem was a sort of aberration for me because I was “intending” to become a fiction writer and was mostly writing short stories at the time. I even made arrogant statements about poets at a creative writing class I was taking where they pulled aside “gifted” students from several high schools. Blush. When I heard of the publication, a reporter from the small-town newspaper came to the high school and interviewed me. I remember developing a rapid crush on him. And there was my picture in the newspaper, all shy and in a plaid shirt, my elbow resting on a stack of books taken from the English teacher’s desk.

All my writing life, I seem to have encountered a series of diversions in genre that have taken me away from my intentions, leading me to poetry, poetry, poetry. I say this, but I do write in multiple genres (a healthy thing for any writer, in my opinion). Nowadays, I write poetry, creative nonfiction, essays for glossy magazines, and scholarly writing on composition and rhetoric. Right now, I have poems forthcoming in two journals, an essay at Brain, Child which is one of the few non-saccharine sweet parenting magazines, a creative nonfiction piece at Meeting House, and two scholarly pieces about to be printed. Note the absence of fiction.

Do you have any advice for young writers?
AP: Accept painful moments but stay true to yourself and aware of your needs and passions. Never discount an impulse.

SG: What are your favorite books? How have they influenced you as a writer and as a person?
AP: I absolutely adore anything by Caroline Knox, a contemporary poet with six books. Get her books! She is a master of the language surface, of varied points-of-view, of the spirit of fun in poetry. I practically eat her words before starting my own writing. Caroline Knox’s poetry is like a thesaurus page come to life. I also love with a big L Emily Dickinson—a true architect of language.

And I very much respect W. S Merwin’s 1996 collection, The Vixen, for its attention to the present moment which he pulls off through detail, enjambment, and his absences (especially punctuation). That collection is very Buddhist-oriented. It is the wall that stands behind most haiku.

These are the books—along with a thick book on the painter Paul Klee and a collected poems of Wallace Stevens—that are nearly always on the upper-right hand corner of my writing desk.

SO Good thanks Alexandria for her time and we're looking forward to her reading on Wednesday.

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