Five Questions with Peter LaBerge
Peter LaBerge is the author of the chapbook Hook (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2015), recently included on the American Library Association’s Over the Rainbow List. His recent work appears in Beloit Poetry Journal, Best New Poets 2014, Colorado Review, Copper Nickel, Indiana Review, Iowa Review, Pleiades, and Sixth Finch, among others. He is the recipient of a fellowship from the Bucknell University Stadler Center for Poetry, and the founder and editor-in-chief of The Adroit Journal. He lives in Philadelphia, where he is an undergraduate student at the University of Pennsylvania. Visit him online at http://www.peterlaberge.com.
I first heard of Peter through The Adroit Journal, the fantastic lit mag he founded while in high school, and then met him at last year's AWP. We're thrilled to publish his poem "Salt Lake City, 2011" in the latest issue of ONSQU (available here!). I spoke with Peter over email about ageism, avocados, and exotic birds, among other things.
— Laura Creste
1. How do poems happen for you?
My poems don’t begin with narrative spines; they begin with emotional (lyric) ones.
I begin each poem I write with a clear page and an emotion in mind—perhaps shame, regret, or hollowness. An emotion we’ve all experienced, but one that I feel I have something to say about, one I feel I know especially well.
With every poem I write, I want to find a new way to access these age-old emotions, and in doing so, pull the interpretations of these emotions slightly closer to the experiences that I have had through my adolescence and early twenties. I do not subscribe to the belief that I am too young—as a twenty-one-year-old undergraduate junior—to have life experience and wisdom worth sharing. (Because the literary world is undeniably ageist, I’m grateful that I never felt like I didn’t deserve a voice, that I hadn’t yet earned one. I was that fifteen-year-old un-ironically submitting to Poetry and The New Yorker.)
Of course, it’s easy to find oneself marooned in the hopelessly abstract when one’s compositional priority is articulating and illustrating abstraction. I won’t pretend it doesn’t happen to me every now and again. In these moments, I take a step back and remember why I write; surely, it must be more than emotion. Yes, it is. I write to present moments and images that trigger deeper understandings of this complicated, messy world and the emotions we as human beings experience within it. I write to share a slice of memory, to extend a hand in the hopes it will meet another, even in passing, and I write for this exchange to mean something.
Above all, I write to convey, and for that conveyance to make sense—even if it’s predominantly emotive. I think it took me a surprisingly long time to see that in my work. I’m currently taking a memoir class (taught by the ever-luminous Beth Kephart) and I’m doing lots of thinking about the intersection of lyric and narrative in ways I never have before.
2. What was the last interesting thing you overhead?
Earlier tonight, I heard my neighbors having a heated argument about exotic birds. Apparently, I have strange neighbors. So I guess that’s something.
3. What's the most outlandish thing you've ever believed?
I think perhaps the most outlandish thing I’ve ever believed is something I’m still, strangely enough, actively trying to un-believe: that writing—and committing to—poetry is not inherently black or white. While considering post-grad options, it’s become customary for me to consider the ‘poetry option’ (in which I apply to and hopefully am accepted to one of my top MFA choices) and the ‘non-poetry option’ (in which I work in marketing in a big city and theoretically have a stable income). It is only in reflective moments such as these that I stop and realize that both of these options involve poetry, because both of these options involve me. Regardless of whether you dress me up in a suit or put me in Birkenstocks, I am a poet and that’s not going to change anytime soon. Sometimes, I think, I can outlandishly forget that I’m not a writer the way I’m a student or Philadelphia resident; I’m a writer the way I’m a human.
4. Where do you want to live next?
What a question! I suppose that depends on whence the job or graduate school acceptance comes. For now, I’m shooting for New York (New York!), or—if not NYC—perhaps Los Angeles. Or San Francisco. Or Chicago. Really, I’m not too picky—as long as it’s a sizable city and there’s a sizable creative/art scene!
5. Describe your ideal day.
This is currently midterm season for me, so I would happily take a simple day of reading good poetry—perhaps one or two books from the massive To-Read Stack I have inadvertently collected—on the beach someplace sunny and warm. My ideal day would likely also include many or all of my following favorite hobbies: (1) spending copious amounts of time in hot tubs, (2) eating lots of avocados, and (3) running into poets in public. Basically, straight up treating myself.