Introduction for Allan Peterson Reading

A version of this review (and a better edited version) may appear in a future issue of Redactions: Poetry & Poetics.


From Introduction to Allan Peterson’s Reading

at The University of Southern Mississippi on Friday, April 26, 2019

Allan Peterson This Luminous: New and Selected PoemsThe first time I encountered Allan Peterson was early in my first semester at The University of Southern Mississippi in August 2012, where I was beginning the doctorate program for creative writing. I barely knew anyone yet, but I knew there was a poetry reading and I went to it. And there was Allan Peterson. I would like to give you an impression of me hearing Peterson for the first time. [jaw drops. eyes pop out of face. uses index finger to close jaw.] As that happened, I thought, “Who is this guy? Why don’t I know about him? I’ve missed so much. So many of these uniquely detailed images.” Here is an example: “trains threw oars of light from their windows. / In endless black you could see them rowing through Kansas.” The image is so original. It’s like someone who sees the world without the lens of language getting in the way. In other words, he sees things fresh, inimitable. Here’s another: “The ocean seems endless when two dolphins divide it. / Epistemology follows.”  The image alone is breathless, but that turn on the line break to “Epistemology follows.” I was knocked out by how he could mix an image with a philosophical abstraction. I love these leaping and seemingly inconceivable connections. I was hooked right then and there.

But I continued to listen to his reading. I listened to how, as W.B. Yeats said of a good poem, his poems “click shut like a well-made box.” And I imagine Mary Poppins listening to him, and thinking “My supercalifragilisticexpialidocious ain’t got nothing on him,” because he uses words that I’ve never heard before, but they are so fun to read and say, like “cotyledons,” which is an embryonic leaf in a seed-bearing light; or “coelenterates,” which is an aquatic invertebrate animal; or “carnelian,” a shade of red; or “alizarin,” a dye used to make a shade of red. The last two words are probably familiar to artists, and Peterson is also a visual artist, which is probably why he sees the world so uniquely. Or as the critic Stephanie Burt says (and if Stephanie Burt is writing about your poetry, you must be doing something amazing), “No other poet [. . .] focuses so fully on the inward effects of apparently inconsequential observations; no other poet makes them speak so well. [. . .] Peterson almost never describes scenes literally and at length; poets who do so can lose a lopsided contest against the resources of visual art, as Peterson must know [. . .]. Instead, Peterson uses what he sees as a starting point for effects of inwardness, of ratiocination, above all of analogy.”

I feel I could go on and on, but I won’t. I’ll just say two more things. First, Peterson is the author of six full-length books of poetry, most recently: This Luminous: New and Selected Poems (Panhandler Books, 2019); Precarious (42 Miles Press, 2014), which was a finalist for The Lascaux Prize and chosen as one of the four best books of poetry in 2014 by The Chicago Tribune; my personal favorite, Fragile Acts (McSweeney’s Poetry Series, 2012), which was a finalist for both the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Oregon Book Award; and Susceptible (forthcoming from Salmon Press in 2020). And he is the author of eight chapbooks, most recently: Other Than They Seem (Tupelo Press, 2014), which won the Snowbound Chapbook Prize; and Omnivore (Bateau Press, 2009), which won the Third Annual Boom Chapbook Prize. He has also received fellowships from the National Endowments for the Arts and from The State of Florida.

The last thing I would like to say is: Tonight, listen with your eyes.




Works Cited

“About.” Allan Peterson, www.allanpeterson.net. Accessed 17 Apr. 2019.

Burt, Stephanie. “In the Details: Looking Closely with Allan Peterson.” Boston Review, 1 July 2011, bostonreview.net/poetry/stephen-burt-allan-peterson-as-much-as. Accessed 17 Apr. 2019.


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