10 Questions for Peter LaBerge
- By Edward Clifford
Des Plaines, Illinois: Acre of river. River
of silver un-grief. River
who alibied out. Who is
not talking. Of methodical defrost.
—from “Bruise Music,” Spring 2018 (Vol.59, Issue 1)
Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
The first poem I ever wrote and sent out for publication was called “Break-My-Heart Battlefield.” I wrote it during my freshman year of high school, and I abused alliteration to a criminal degree. It was published in my high school’s literary magazine, and I still kind of feel the need to repent—but everyone starts somewhere, right?
What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
There were so many writers who were unnecessarily kind to me back when I was starting out—Richie Hofmann, Tarfia Faizullah, Ocean Vuong, Chloe Honum, and honestly so many more. Not to mention all of the writer friends with whom I grew up and matured. All of them have shaped the writer that I’ve become.
What other professions have you worked in?
I currently work in content marketing for a start-up based in the San Francisco Bay Area. (Though it certainly wasn’t always the plan, I minored in consumer psychology while majoring in English at the University of Pennsylvania.)
Aside from my work in content marketing, I founded the Adroit Journal as a high school sophomore back in November 2010, and remain the publication’s editor-in-chief. I’m also the founder & co-director of the Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program, a free, online program that pairs high school writers with established poets, fiction writers, and nonfiction writers. I guess you can say I’m a content marketer, editor, publisher, writer, and educator, on the best of days.
What did you want to be when you were young?
Honestly, I don’t think there was a period in which I wanted to be something eventually (once I was older, once I graduated from high school, etc.). I think it’s silly to want to be something eventually (unless there’s a degree or some other objective measure associated with it), and I encourage others to think it’s silly, too.
All throughout middle school, and into freshman year of high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to be, or even who I was. Then, once I found writing, I knew I wanted to be a writer, so I wrote—and then, before I even thought about publishing, before I founded my publication, before I became a member of the literary community, I was a writer. When you stop and think about it, it’s really as simple as that—all you have to do to be a writer is write. It doesn’t have to be your day job, or even a consistent pursuit… if you write, it’s entirely valid to call yourself a writer.
Once I realized that all I had to do was write, I felt an immense sense of relief, and embraced my identity—independent of rejection and subjectivity and a lot of the things that discourage young writers. I’m grateful for that realization early-on in my development as a writer.
What inspired you to write this piece?
I wrote “Bruise Music” about a boy named Robert Piest, the final victim of famed serial killer John Wayne Gacy. The form of the language was inspired by Corey Van Landingham’s stunning “Elegy”, featured in Linebreak.
The poems about which I care most are the poems that feel almost transcendental in their composition—that’s how writing “Bruise Music” felt for me. Sometimes, you come out of a poem, even a first draft, a different person—perhaps sadder, yet a bit less naïve. Moments like these, at least with my respect to my work, have been what’s made poetry a worthwhile pursuit.
Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
I write a lot about the Midwest—Ohio, specifically. Although I didn’t grow up in Ohio, a good portion of my family lives in northwest Ohio, so it’s a place I often visit. Every time I visit, I’m a different reflection of myself—as I come to understand (and, eventually, embrace) more and more of myself. Ohio is always similar, though, which makes it a really interesting canvas with which to explore myself and my identity.
Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
Music is an extremely effective regulator of my mood, so when I’m writing I often listen to music that I know will hold me at the mercy of my emotions. I really only write when I’m feeling sad, nostalgic, wistful, or all three, so generally my repertoire of writing music falls in line with Sufjan Stevens, Lana Del Rey, Beirut, and (depending on the song) Troye Sivan.
If you could work in another art form what would it be?
Oh, definitely modern dance. I’m slightly obsessed. Actually, I’m more than slightly obsessed.
I think my poetic method is actually quite similar, at least aesthetically, to what I imagine a modern dancer’s method is. I feel a visceral, bodily connection to the poems I write and to the music that inspires them. I can imagine a dancer also experiences this mutual fascination with body and sound. In the case of dance, of course, movement is the medium rather than language, but I see movement and language—if it’s the right language for the moment, for the experience—as two sides of the same coin. It’s not always seamless and it’s not always quick, but truly the best poems come out of the body like both movement and song.
What are you working on currently?
Currently, I’m living before I dive headfirst into what I’m thinking will be my full-length [publication]. I’m honestly still figuring how the fixation that led to Makeshift Cathedral will adapt into my next fixation. I’m writing here and there, of course, but each day I don’t write is a reminder that even writers don’t always know what to say.
What are you reading right now?
Honestly, right now I’m reading submissions to The Adroit Journal and to the Adroit Prizes for Poetry and Prose! I can tell you what I’m looking forward to reading, though. Here’s that list—
“If They Should Come for Us” by Fatimah Asghar
“Tunsiya Amrikiya” by Leila Chatti
“Not Here” by Hieu Minh Nguyen
“The Undressing” by Li-Young Lee
“Registers of Illuminated Villages” by Tarfia Faizullah
“Indecency” by Justin Phillip Reed
I honestly can’t wait.
PETER LABERGE is the author of the chapbooks Makeshift Cathedral (YesYes Books, 2017) and Hook (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2015). His recent work appears in Best New Poets, Crazyhorse, Harvard Review, Iowa Review, Pleiades, Tin House, and elsewhere. He is the founder and editor-in-chief of the Adroit Journal, and recently graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with his B.A. in English. He lives in Redwood City, California, and online at peterlaberge.com.