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Laurel S. Peterson


The author of "DROUGHT," "GRATITUDE," and "MACY" in ISSUE 03 and her thoughts on drawing inspiration from walks, using photography to step outside the self, and learning to wait.

What are you reading these days? Do you love/hate/feel neutral about it, and why?


I’m reading The Auberge of the Flowering Hearth, a cookbook/travelogue about a mountain valley inn in southeast France that apparently inspired Alice Waters to cook locally. We traveled to Lyons in May/June (2023), not too far from the valley featured in the book where Chartreuse is made; the food and wine descriptions are voluptuous and joyful. It’s a much-needed break from the news. I’m also reading Anne Hillerman’s latest mystery novel, filled with old character friends from her father’s novels. Next up in poetry is Felon by Reginald Dwayne Betts, which I might teach my community college students this fall, and Aaron Caycedo-Kimura’s common grace. I love Aaron’s compassionate eye. Finally, I just finished Sebastian Martinez Daniell’s Two Sherpas, about, well, two sherpas looking over the edge of a Himalayan precipice at a dead Englishman. The entire book takes place in the space of about 15 minutes, but we are treated to both personal and world histories, meditations on Shakespeare, philosophy, personal ambitions, and landscape descriptions. It was fabulous and thought-provoking.


I’ve decided that I’m too old to read anything that leaves me flat after 50 pages. Hard is fine, but tedious is not. That’s pretty generous, right? 


Have you read a passage of writing that deeply shifts something inside you, if so, please share it with us? 

I have always loved T. S. Eliot, and because I don’t fully understand him, I come back to his work repeatedly. One of my favorite passages is from Four Quartets: Burnt Norton

“At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless; 

Neither form nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,

But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,

Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,

Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,

There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

I can only say, there we have been; I cannot say where.

And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.”

I love the spiritual mysticism of this, the idea that we can’t know exactly what he means, but we can apprehend the feeling of it, a kind of knowing that goes behind an explanation into, somehow, the very center of the self and from there on out into the universe. 


Sometimes I am gifted moments like that, and occasionally, they make their way into my poems, as if something magic has happened and I’ve been given knowledge far beyond my own logical understanding. 


When you are working on a piece, what inspirations do you draw from?


Whatever I can find! I try to walk several times a week, and physical movement and the interaction with the world—natural or human-formed—offers metaphors. Also, the older I get, the more like projects. That is, I’ll start with a form, like the prose poems published in your beautiful magazine, and let the form, in concert with the emotion, shape what I’m doing. Sometimes, it’s a topic: my book Daughter of Sky contains poems about astronomy, airplanes, UFOs, and my pilot father. I also have an unpublished manuscript of persona poems based on the voice of a secretary from my first job after college. She was a pistol, and I loved her tell-it-like-it-is energy. 

What craft elements are you most interested in/attached to within your writing?


Image, image, image. During the pandemic when I couldn’t write, I started taking photography classes. I’m not sure my photographs improved with whatever knowledge I managed to retain, but I’m having a lot of fun. Also, I needed to see in a different way. I’m a college professor, and all I did during the pandemic was work with words: emails from students, their essays, the text I was teaching, the written materials I posted on Blackboard. I commented at one point that online teaching was all the boring parts of teaching and none of the fun ones. So I didn’t want to read anything else. Photography let me step outside myself and access a different kind of art. 


Who/what are some of your writing obsessions, and why?


Smooth-writing pens, college-ruled paper in my journals, beauty to look at, quiet (no music, no weird noises from my husband down the hall, no dog pacing), a glass of water. Writers I adore: Sara Paretsky for mysteries—she’s just so smart! Mark Doty, T. S. Eliot, Claudia Rankine, Mark Strand—for poetry because they push me, their images are gorgeous or challenging, they have wit, they push boundaries. Jonathan Franzen (yes, I love his long, long novels) and Ben Lerner (novels rather than poetry), David Leibovitz for food writing and James’ Nestor’s book on Breath; Colin Thubron for travel writing, Kevin Wilson for quirky hilarity, Pam Houston for emotional honesty (and her FB posts about politics and her farm). I won’t go on, but I buy all that they write because I love their language, their smartness (love of smartness is in danger in America), their approaches to the page. 


I like to listen to smart people, I want them as our leaders, I want to read their words. My students tell me they are intimidated by smartness, but one of life’s very great pleasures is watching someone do something they are really good at. 


What are some ways in which you remain productive/find time to be a writer? 


As a professor, I’ve been gifted the great luxury of summers, long Christmas breaks, and a fair amount of control over my work week. But the most helpful thing is my writing group, where I am required to produce something once a month, or else. Without that I might stop being a writer and just drift into taking long walks and working in the garden. Also, the more I have a project to build around, the more productive I am. The project provides a direction, a goal to keep me focused. 


Tell us what your writing space look like.


I write on a table that my father made for my mother’s kitchen. He died just before COVID hit, so it’s special that I have a piece of his handiwork. On the table are my laptop, camera, phone, hand lotion, pen and pencil jars, piles of projects, Kleenex, and a scented candle a friend gave me. I alternate between liking the piles because it makes me feel as though I’m doing something and wanting to clear the desk off completely. 


On both sides of my desk are bookshelves filled with poetry and non-fiction, and a shelf filled with publications. On the floor is the TBR stack. There’s a comfy chair behind me and a large flat file. Pictures of my family to the left, beautiful photographs by a former boyfriend on the wall, a whimsical poster designed by a cousin behind me. On the floor, a red oriental rug, also purchased by my father and gifted to me when my mother sold the house after he died. The comfy chair belonged to my grandmother. Occasionally, the dog graces me with his presence. 


What are some ways in which you get through a block in your creative work?

After writing for thirty years, I don’t get blocked a lot anymore in my creative work. At least, I don’t call it that. If I need to step away to think or rest, I do it. I’ve learned over many years that if I just wait, whatever the solution is will come. I don’t work to the point of exhaustion. I try to give myself lots of artistic stimuli—other books, beautiful images, landscapes. I try to be surrounded with beauty: pens that are pretty, clean pages, an uncluttered workspace. I’m not on deadline, but if I were I could see that it might be different. I have started writing a monthly column for Substack, so we’ll see how that affects my creative life! 


How do you navigate the experience of submissions/rejections/acceptances?


Badly! The pursuit of publication feels overwhelming, and then the promotion of said publication feels even worse. I interviewed an author recently who shall remain nameless; she kept muttering crankily to herself, “I used to be an author; now I do social media,” as she took and posted pictures online. I don’t know how to sell books. I don’t know how to reach readers. It used to be events, but getting people to events is so challenging. I require my students to come to the author conversations I schedule at the public library, but otherwise, I feel lost and stumped. And finding magazines that seem to mesh with your own vision is a challenge, given the massive number out there. I’m so pleased to have found you! Mostly, I open up Poets and Writers and stare at the list.


Regarding your pieces in Issue 03, what does it mean for/to you?


We had a drought last summer in Connecticut and I felt so shocked by those six weeks of parched dryness. Everywhere I looked, things were shriveling or helpless, and it resonated so fully with the losses I was feeling elsewhere in my life. Yes, COVID and those losses, but also the shift in the U.S. political landscape, the anti-abortion ruling from the Supreme Court, the friends dying of cancer, and so on. It felt endless. I wrote a whole series of prose poems about those losses, and they poured out of me like a kind of breathless wail.  


Do you have a recent publication/project you would like us to highlight?


My most recent poetry publication is titled Daughter of Sky, and it’s available here. 

My most recent mystery novel about a woman who has predictive dreams, The Fallen, is available here.


What is something you would like to share with other writers out there?

Be kind to yourself. If you can’t write every day, it’s OK. Give yourself treats when you finish writing: cake, walks, tea, naps, whatever works. Breathe. Take your time. You’ll get there when you get there. And most of all, trust yourself. You know how to do this; it might just be that you’re not quite there yet. If you can be quiet and wait, you’ll get what you need. 


Thanks so much for having me! 

Laurel S. Peterson is a community college English professor whose poetry has been published in many literary journals. She has two poetry chapbooks, That’s the Way the Music Sounds (Finishing Line) and Talking to the Mirror (Last Automat), and two full-length collections, Do You Expect Your Art to Answer? and Daughter of Sky (Futurecycle). She has also written two mystery novels, Shadow Notes and The Fallen (Woodhall). She is a member of the Norwalk Public Library Board, and served as Norwalk, Connecticut’s, Poet Laureate from April 2016 – April 2019.



Social media: @laurelwriter49 Twitter and Instagram


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