Andrew K. Peterson’s poetry books include Anonymous Bouquet (Spuyten Duyvil, 2015), some deer left the yard moving day (BlazeVox, 2013), and Museum of Thrown Objects (BlazeVox, 2010). His chapbook bonjour meriwether and the rabid maps (Fact-Simile, 2011) was featured in an exhibition on poets’ maps at the Univ. of Arizona’s Poetry Center. His writing is anthologized in Emergency Index 2012 (Ugly Duckling Presse), 4000 WORDS 4000 DEAD, a collaborative performance project (curated by Jennifer Karmin, released by Kora Press), and The Earth Archive (curated by Danielle Vogel for RISD Museum). He edits the online literary journal summer stock, and lives in the Boston area.
1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first published work was a chapbook of poetry collaborations with Elizabeth Guthrie called Between Here and the Telescopes, published under the umbrella of Slumgullion Press, a diy publishing collective in Missoula, Montana, where we lived then. Slumgullion’s founder Debby Florence would tote zines, artbooks, and chapbooks around to readings and the farmer’s market downtown on a bicycle-powered book mobile. Liz’s friend, the artist Dirk Lee, letter-pressed the book’s covers for us at his studio/press called Naked Man Press – because he likes to print in the nude. I think that book changed our lives because it gave Liz and I some courage and confidence in our work, and a feeling of solidarity by collaborating with our friends, like we were part of a practicing artist’s community. In some ways, I think the process of publishing Anonymous Bouquet is similar. I’m not writing strict collaborations here, but the book’s cover has anonymous handwriting samples contributed by my closest friends, poetry colleagues, and family. Writing poetry and engaging with creative people and art-makers makes me feel not quite so alone.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I began as a genre writer – when I was 10 my friend Seth and I wrote short detective stories inspired by our mutual obsession with Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? I started writing poetry in high school – song lyrics, mostly. I couldn’t sing, or play an instrument, so they became poems. I became friends with a group of artists, painters, musicians, and we would hang out after school. I was very shy and I would mostly sit and listen to them talk and tell jokes. I thought they were so cool, and was never sure why they let me hang around, but they did and were inclusive, and nice. Junior year in English class, we had a poetry unit, and were supposed to write a term paper on a poet. We got to choose. I don’t remember what my feeling about poetry was then. I remember I liked reading it, because it had that emotion right on the surface of the language, but was always really bored by the stuff they’d make us read. I loved how much weight each word had on the page, like a heavy, musical structure. I remember our poetry textbook with heavy, ivory pages that dark black italicized letters. The words in the poems felt tangible, they never had in prose. One of my cool friends was in that class, and I had a crush on her. She was confident with her socialness and her artistic abilities. When it came time to choose what poet we’d write about, my teacher recommended Lawrence Ferlinghetti to her, but she chose Langston Hughes instead. So when it came to my turn, I chose Ferlinghetti. I knew nothing about him, or his poems. I liked the sound of his name, it sounded exotic and interesting – way more interesting than Robert Frost – and, of course, because my teacher had recommended it to my friend. Reading Ferlinghetti inspired me to loosen up my approach, to the form and language.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
Every poem has a different field of composition. Some occasional poems – like some occasions – come and go quickly, while some develop and evolve over a longer period. Some of my first drafts come out looking mostly done, and some are assembled through notation and particle fusion. I’m changing all the time; I hope my writing and the structures that writing fits into, reflects that.
4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
Composing poems tends to begin in the moment and ends with a signal. At Naropa I took a wonderful class with Andrew Schelling on the serial poem, called “Fructile Chaos”, which was very influential for me. The title sequence of my first book, Museum of Thrown Objects, was started in that class, and was inspired by close readings of serial poetry by Jack Spicer, Robin Blaser, and Robert Duncan. I was attracted to composing poems in the moment, but with a larger structure in mind. My second book, some deer left the yard moving day, is a long poem, made up of small parts, with a disruption in the middle – I knew I was writing a ‘book’ sequence, but at the same time, I wanted to disrupt that sense of, what exactly, I’m not sure – cohesiveness? Like, will the circle be unbroken? It feels like that’s the direction I’ve been moving to more recently. Anonymous Bouquet is more a collection of short pieces, written over a period of a few years that, although not initially envisioned as a book, per se, I hope, reflect a similar sense of dreams, themes, and schemes.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I like the opportunity to share my poems with an audience, and also have them relate with other writers’ words, to find connections and hear each unique voice. More recently, I’ve found readings helpful in shaping poems – seeing how certain poems go over in a live setting. Recording myself reading has helped identify where certain words or phrases don’t work, or where a line break, a different word, or page rhythm is necessary. The poem doesn’t always have to come alive in the air, in front of others, though. I think some poems work better not read out loud, and some ask to be heard.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
Yeah, but ugh, I bore myself talking about them…
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
I don’t see the role of the writer being any different than any other profession or calling, really. I think every person, no matter their vocation, or passion, has a certain responsibility to truth, justice and equality. Whether you’re an Uber driver, or a poet, it’s not that different. I guess the writer just practices with words, and maybe should be willing to explore and flail – fail – in public search of their own subjective truth, with words and in words. And try to tread lightly enough that you don’t fuck somebody up, don’t hurt anybody, or yourself, in the process of communicating that with others.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Working with an editor reminds me that I’m not perfect, and that’s a given, though sometimes difficult to express. So it’s essentially-difficult… and essential.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Don’t forget to shake.
10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
My “routine” consists of a process of note-taking in little notebooks while walking around, opening around the world, or trying to open up enough and allow something in, or emptying out enough to be able to receive whatever is coming through the world.
My day begins with a dream-dispersing NPR news alarm. It’s unremarkable, really. A quick shower, a coffee, and out the door to work.
11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
A book a friend a museum songs the streets.
12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Marsh musk at low tide.
13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
Absolutely, all of these. Nature, and that can be the city, too. Music and art, which are also natures. People.
14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Craigslist’s a Missed Connections. In Anonymous Bouquet I have a poem called “Mist Connects” which is a collage of anonymous MC entries from around New Year’s Day, 2011. I wanted to collectivize voices from around the globe, to see how we were all negotiating New Year’s Eve revelry, day-after hangovers, regrets, yearning and resolutions.
Two years after an excerpt of the poem was published online, I was contacted by the journal’s editor Mark Young. A reader left a note in the comments section to the poem claiming to have written one of the anonymous posts which I had used. I was worried they might be upset, but they expressed gratitude to me for including their words, for salvaging their entry – which was very personal and meaningful – when it would have been erased from this ephemeral forum. We shared a nice correspondence, swapping stories of the circumstances behind our mutual writing, now bound by the collectively anonymous. This was a special experience for me, and a lesson for the power that a piece of writing can have as a marker of memory, as a conduit for connection. Also, how even an anonymous act retains a mark of an individual’s humane and unique personality.
15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Plant roses on the moon.
16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
A cinematographer, or film editor.
17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
There was a period in my life in my early twenties – I had been writing poems for about seven years by that point – I was working in television news, and I hated it. Local news is a very toxic environment, and I could feel my sensitivities and outlook becoming a lot bleaker. That was too much to take, so I quit. I really wanted to make films, and I had the very limited idea that to do that, professionally, I had to move to LA. I didn’t want to move to LA. During that period, I was really depressed, and the thought of collaborating with anyone – and film is a very collaborative art – horrified me, being face to face with others and my pain, in a social way. So I worked on nothing but poetry for a few months, and although that was a really tough time, I started to find ways to express myself through poems that started to click, in interesting ways for me. A few got accepted at a literary journal – and I really believe, it was that editor, Miriam Stanley, who gave me the courage and feeling of support, to keep writing. I give all credit and humble thanks to her. Thank you, Miriam.
18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Stars Seen in Person: Selected Journals of John Wieners, and Chelsea Girls by Eileen Myles. My last great film experience was a double feature of Universal horror classics, The Mummy followed by The Invisible Man, on a rainy Friday October night on Brattle.
19 - What are you currently working on?
12 or 20 (second series) questions;