Interview with Poet Charnell Peters | LitHabits for Writers

Hello! My name is Renee Long and I am a
creative writer and the founder of the LitHabits Blog and Workshop and welcome
to this week’s video broadcast. This week I have the honor of sharing my interview
with poet and editor Charnell Peters. Charnell Peters is the author of the
poetry chapbook Unbecoming from 30 West Publishing House. Her previous work has
appeared in Foundry, Hippocampus, Crab Creek Review, and elsewhere. She is the
editor of Ruminate Magazine’s online publication The Waking. And I love our
conversation here because we got to go deep into a discussion around craft plus
very practical tips for poets and writers to overcome procrastination,
perfectionism, and impostor syndrome. In this interview we touch on a few things
like how to honor whatever emotional state you’re in and write anyway;
a brilliant and simple strategy for poets to outwit perfectionism, which I’m
going to start using myself; and how to think like a poet in daily life when
you’re out in life in the world. And how new writers can manage the pressure of
creating a brand and actually be content in the present moment of wherever they
are in the process. Plus, Charnell shares a lovely poetry reading with us at the end
so be sure to watch all the way through last thing before we jump in we our
writers right and so we do our best thinking by listening first and then
actually writing things down writing our ideas down so this interview actually
comes with a lightbulb catcher worksheet which you can find through the forum
below so hop on my VIP list and you’ll get that worksheet straight to your
inbox so you can get the most out of char Nell’s wisdom oh it was such an
honor to talk to charnel about poetry and her process and i’m thrilled to
share this interview with you today so without further ado here’s my
conversation with poet charnel Peters we are here today with charnel Peters and
we’re gonna be talking about her lovely book I’m becoming so welcome charnel I’m
so glad to have you here can you tell us a little bit about your work and what
you it’s a poet yeah so I am currently a
doctoral students I study recent communication at the
University of Utah so that’s most of my life but I do really like to write on
the side I like poetry especially I’ve been doing for a few years now and a lot
of the things that our research is actually kind of what comes out in my
poetry as well so themes of race and identity and embodiment space and place
community all those things kind of come out in my poetry as well wonderful
and charnel is also the editor of ruminates online publication the waking
which i’m a contributor to so that’s how we’ve met and worked together so it’s
been an absolute delight to work with charnel as an editor and so that brings
me to my question what’s one non writing or even non editing habit that’s made a
positive impact on your writing life and writing practice yeah that’s a good
question I think something that I really enjoy doing is kind of just finding
other ways to flex my creative skills my creative mind and to like be okay with
failing at those things so I you know I just started guitar lessons last week I
know a mean twinkle twinkle little star and that’s about it
I started painting last year I really loved tinkering on the keyboard and I
don’t do any of these things extraordinarily well but I do think that
kind of just practicing you know being creative in other ways it really helps
meet you right and helps me understand you know what a process it is to kind of
get you where do you want to be absolutely I really believe that unless
we’re tapping on those other creativity centers in the brain it’s gonna be
really hard for us to draw from that creative well and it’s interesting that
you I just love that that you’re doing guitar you’re doing painting that really
kind of like puts your brain and your creative spirit into all these different
realms so yeah that’s you that’s awesome so my next question is
you’ve published this beautiful chat book unbecoming and you have multiple
publications online in print and you’re also an amazing thoughtful editor at
ruminates online publication in the waking so what does your writing and
editing routine look like and how have you cultivated that stamina to finish a
longer work like a chat book yeah I think that I am NOT like a really
schedule regimented person and kind of any aspects of my life so definitely not
my writing but I do like just that kind of really small reasonable goals myself
so lately it’s just kind of been like okay by this month I want to have two
packets of poems to send out to some journals so that would be like you know
eight to ten poems I want to finish in this amount of time I kind of just work
at things incrementally I guess and when I can so I don’t really have like a set
period of time that I write on my house that place that I write I kind of do all
these things just in between a lot of other things so maybe the way that I
kind of get the way that I got to finishing the chat book was kind of just
finding those times admittedly sometimes in classes I both kind of scribbling
things down or walking home or you know just at night when I was done with work
things like that so I’m just finding just little pockets of time to fiddle
with a phrase or a word or something like that I love that I love that
combination of you know goal setting so that you’re not just like you know
willy-nilly out there in the wind but also like writing in the pockets like
Melissa and I chatted about that on our interview a few weeks ago and like
writing in the cracks of life so it sounds like you’ve got a really good
balance for that that’s that’s just wonderful yeah because I think when we
get especially for poets and like creative writers who are really into
that more lyrical much more you know you kind of have to access this other
consciousness it’s important to just grab on to those when
they come right because it’s almost like they’re coming from like otherworldly
places wonderful so my read I know I’ve talked to some of my readers and they
when they have trouble actually sitting down to write they tend to feel
paralyzed when they’re sitting down like just nothing’s coming out or like
everything’s been done before and they’re totally unoriginal and Who am I
to write poetry or Who am I to write this short story and they’ll end or
they’ll end up procrastinating by doing more research or other important things
like house cleaning or errands and I find it interesting because even in your
book I I would think there was the degree of research to that as well so
can you talk about how do you kind of found that balance between all of that
resistance or have you experienced that resistance and how do you move through
it yeah I definitely think that I felt that resistance um I think that you know
writing is risky and so it comes with all these emotions like you don’t stop
being a human when you sit down to write even though I like to present um some I
like to pretend sometimes I’m just like a robot like typing things out what I’m
doing kind of academic stuff but I’m not like I’m human so I feel all these
emotions about a lot of things right I’m sometimes I sit down I’m really eager to
write and sometimes I’m you know apprehensive and sometimes I’m you know
I just feel a lot of things and so I think that originally I had when I began
writing in undergrad I really thought that I had to be like in this particular
state of mind I had to be feeling this way I had to be thinking this way I had
to be like in the zone and that was what was gonna make the writing really good
and I think that’s what a lot of my resistance came from was just trying to
generate this this state that I wanted to be in and lately in the last few
years I’ve just been learning how to write from whatever state I’m in and
just to kind of acknowledge those feelings of you know maybe this has been
done before I’m you know doubtful that this is worth it or I’m asking
err that this is not going to come across well and just kind of honoring
those emotions and writing anyway writing despite I also know that a lot
of my kind of resistance can come from not from you know that blank page and
feeling like everything has to be generated right here right now or it’s
like over and so there’s a lot of like pressure on getting things right and
getting them right the first time and so a way that I kind of work around that
with my poetry is you know all the poems that I write in a year are in the same
Word document so if I’m writing on one poem and it just feels like I can’t do
anything more with that I can just scroll down to the next poem and see if
there’s one thing that I can work on with that so there’s poems in there
there’s just kind of fragments images that I’m not going to work with poem
topics that I might want to explore so there’s always kind of a place for me to
go instead of feeling like everything has to be coming right now on this one
thing then I can kind of see connections in my work and that helps things come
out a little bit easier that is like one of the most brilliant strategies I’ve
heard in a long time this idea especially for poets I’m not sure I
think it could probably work for essayist or or fiction writers but that
it’s such a great idea for poets because like you were saying and I struggle with
that too that I just want it to be the final draft on the first draft like that
is something I’ve always struggled with I get I attend up I tend to get like
really angry at myself and just like well I just want to rip my hair out
because I just want it to be what it is in my brain right which in my brain I
have a vision of what it’s going to be but it’s just we’re humans and that’s
just it’s not how it works and so the idea of putting them all putting poems
all in one document is really brilliant because if you’re in that space of like
I want to work on something that’s a little further along in the process that
I’m not going to feel like it’s so rough drafty I can scroll down and do that or
if something is like coming to me like a bolt from a blue and it
like needs to get down and I’m in the space to have something being really raw
and fresh and like quote quote shitty first draft like I can just do that I
just I love that that is a great strategy thank you for sharing that
that’s super helpful so I wanted to dive into your actual book which was so I we
were just talking before we hit record about I was you know rereading parts of
it in Central Park and it was just such like a lovely experience because charnel
you have such a such a such a powerful way of coupling words and like choosing
your word choice and your rhythm just really makes it kind of hits like a
pinprick to the heart or maybe sometimes like a sledgehammer either one it’s so
wonderful so and one juxta bitch juxtaposition that stood out to me was
this alternating fire and water imagery so I had one had it marked here let me
hope doesn’t take too long for me to find it let’s see there’s two poems that
are right next together right next to each other here it is and one is about
water and the other is on fire so the first one is when the good Lord willed
the creek to rise which has a ton of what beautiful and like sorrowful water
imagery and then one next to that is after the mulch fire in April southern
Indiana which of course I like the title says has a lot of fire imagery so I was
curious was that intentional or something that just kind of burst up
organically um I think maybe both I think that first it was maybe a little
unintentional and then as I was working through the revision process I was
trying to figure out what are these bones even about and so as I was going
through the revision process I was able to kind of see their work he did imagery
and then kind of lean into that and make it a little bit more prominent yeah it
was a little bit of both and I think I was kind of work
with a lot of contradictions and juxtapositions and exploring identity
through the kind of meshing of these things that don’t always work together
and so what you do when like you have you know these parts of your identity
that you know may or may not feel like they fit organically and so I think that
the water in the fire imagery was part of that process and I also think I was
working with a lot of space in place about the Midwest and Indiana in
particular and my hometown in particular bedford indiana which is you know it’s
known for like limestone and had this really big history of limestone which
came out of you know this water that was there millions of years ago and the kind
of rock formations that formed that so i think as i was leaning into that imagery
of the limestone and the kind of processes that made that limestone i was
able to kind of draw those out in water imagery in other ways relating to the
body relating to other types of water and kind of connecting those i love that
will it worked so well just it just worked really well and created that
really powerful juxtaposition like you said and so you did a great job both
awesome yeah and the first poem of the whole collection on monday i decide to
eat five kiwi for breakfast it’s really such a power I mean it just like jolts
you awake which I think it’s a really smart decision as a poet because
sometimes as poets we need to jolt the reader awake and be like this isn’t just
a poem like this is the jolt to your body and I really felt like I was like
okay I’m in this so the stanza once I learned I was black I was growing into I
was growing into you was not one but many millions of skins was particularly
powerful to me and it’s a theme that’s kind of threaded throughout the book can
you talk about that concept of one but not many um yeah I think that I you know
in kind of exploring race in particular is really interesting because another
way of thinking about the is that we are disciplined into these
racial subjects we have no choice but to be raced and to then live in our race
and what does that mean for us and all of that happens within community and so
I think that as an exploration of identity I was really in these columns
exploring all the many communities that can form one person so out of this out
of these many communities whatever this communities are that that then forms
these individuals and yeah these and I think that we kind of learner and who we
are through community through a community other people
implicitly explicitly intentionally unintentionally narrate who we are tell
us who we are and that’s how we kind of learn you know what didn’t use to be a
human and what it means to be a race person what it means to be black what it
means to be a woman a black woman all these things and so yeah I think it was
an exploration of kind of exploring how these communities form individuals and
all the different ways that can look like rights so it’s not just like the
black community forms me as a black woman it’s you know being called the
n-word as a ten-year-old and Southern Indiana also tells me something about
what it means to be a black woman and so all of these communities speaking into
an individual it’s just a really interesting way to kind of explore what
it means to form a body form an identity and that’s what I think a little bit was
that speaking to I love that and it was incredibly powerful it was so wonderful
and so I’m always curious how poets dig up these powerful unique word couplings
and phrases because those writers were like that’s one of our ultimate goals
right is to not sound cliche and you’ve done such I mean everything was so fresh
so polished and it was just wonderful and a one of the phrases that like
popped out to me as a really good coupling and the alliteration was really
wonderful was a travel made of teeth and that’s a really good example so how do
those couplings come to you and what are your strategy for avoiding cliche which
maybe goes into your editing process but how does that work for you yeah that’s a
good question I think your writing is something that we like really want as
writer so it’s like mr. Geiger like come up with something new doing and
something that excites me right as a writer and so I I’m not sure that I
actually avoid cliches maybe I just added out cliches and so I
think that comes with just a trust in the process as cliche as that sounds and
I know itself but yeah I did theater as an you know and my whole life actually
but an undergrad I was part of this play back theater troupe and it’s a type of
improvisational theater and our director Tracy Manning would say a lot of times
your first choice is not always your best choice so the thing that you think
of to go up and do you know in this improvisational situation the first
choice is maybe not the best thing you can think of right it’s just the first
thing that came to you and so I think that happens a lot of my writing like I
have these first choices and they’re not fantastic and they’re not super original
maybe they are cliche and just recognizing that first choice is just a
first choice like it’s not the last choice that I get to make it’s just the
first thing that I’m doing and it made me cliche it may be done before but then
I have the option to make a fifth choice and a sixth choice and a twentieth
choice and suddenly it’s not what it was in the beginning and so I think that
that kind of process of revision is what really maybe keeps me coming up with
fresh things or reworking things in a different way and yeah I think another
kind of practices I do to kind of avoid cliches is just letting myself think
differently about things and this is hard to do because I feel like you know
I think it’s hard for a lot of people right because we have some
other responsibilities like if you’re not just strictly writing poetry for a
living like you maybe have a family to take care of you have bills to pay like
you have a job there’s always other things and so you know your mind gets
trained to work in a certain way but I like really do intentionally like make
myself think poetically on a fairly regular basis like I will be walking to
the bus stop and think you cannot think of anything we are doing today in this
20 minutes I only want you to look at this grass or like listen to the sounds
around you or daydream about something interesting you know those practices
maybe help that come out as well oh that’s so brilliant and that kind of
goes back to like the non writing writing habits like sometimes you have
to get out of your like your writing desk and go for a walk and okay think
like okay I’m only gonna think as a poet right now and like not like a strict
like you know oppressive way but I feel like a like let’s try this as an
experiment and be gentle at the same time so that’s very brilliant I love
your process the other thing that really popped out to me while reading your work
is the impeccable rhythm that you have I know I’m I’m a huge fan of rhythm I
really try to work that into my own work and sometimes but sometimes it’s hard at
language especially I think now that we like with social media and the Internet
and just were like bombarded with information all the time it’s almost
easier for us to like add in a lot of filler words and and kind of lose that
tradition like that sense of rhythm that we actually hold in our bodies and
you’ve done such a good job of making your poems
so rhythmically pleasing like I wasn’t tripped up once which is very hard to do
as a poet so kind of the similar question to before like what is your
process for kind of smoothing out that rhythm or does that again like does that
bubble up organically for you that’s the question I think that I I just really
talked to my like 24/7 like if I’m like washing the
dishes or you like writing an email or thinking out loud
so naturally I also read my poetry out loud as I’m writing it again and again
and again every line and I think maybe that’s what helps me to kind of hear the
rhythm as I’m writing and you know as I’m speaking it there’s something that’s
tripping me up then I know that you know it’s going to likely trick a reader up
as well or maybe that that’s the purpose but if there’s a purpose to difficult
for them or something that’s difficult to get through then maybe I will lead
into that and make it you know more prominent or you know draw that out and
poem but otherwise if I’m just trying to kind of make something conversational or
make it you know have a specific cadence and I think that that does come out
maybe because I’m always talking through my writing and then I can actually hear
it which helps I love that yes I think that’s just a general good tip for all
writers is to read your work out loud especially poets because it’s so poetry
is so sonically important unless you’re like all the way over on the spectrum of
it’s just a visual poem but I think at the end of the day all of our poetry is
audible and it’s a full like full experience that’s wonderful so what is
you know you work with writers all the time with ruminate and you do such a
wonderful job what’s a one piece of advice you would
give to aspiring writers yeah that’s a great question I think that I maybe say
something like take your time and that’s something that I have learned along the
way it’s not something that I really believed in maybe at first so you know I
think I was I was in a writing program in undergrad and it was very much about
like becoming a writer now and like you know getting the publication’s now and
developing a voice now and create your brand now and so I felt a lot of
pressure to kind of develop to just be a developed Rider like very suddenly you
know and so that wasn’t a really productive way for me to think about my
writing it was very and made me feel very apprehensive and made me feel like
a fraud and like all these things and so yeah I think that I I would say to just
like take your time and that doesn’t mean that there can’t be a sense of
urgency to your work because I do think there is you know a sense of urgency
that I feel about my work or I wouldn’t be doing it but I do you think there’s a
balance between you know feeling a sense of urgency for your work and also
recognizing that this is all a really long process and you know you have to
get through a lot of things to get to where you’re going and I think for me a
lot of times I I want to be the writer that I will be in five years right now
and I want that to happen like like I want to be her you know and the truth is
that’s not possible if it’s not possible for me to be that person and the sign
right here so I think that you know trusting the process again taking your
time and being okay with you know the cadence or the rhythm that you’re
working in is really important and you know that like the rhythm it may not be
completely linear but it may not be me just incrementally getting better until
I’m you know at that five-year mark of whatever I thought that that writer we
was going to be like maybe it’s you know more winding than that maybe I’m not
gonna be able to tell like how I even got there
but yeah I think that just taking your time and balancing that with the sense
of urgency is really important I love that that’s a great piece of advice
because I completely agree with you and I have to check myself so much for that
because just like you said I want to be the writer five years down the line or I
want to you know obviously like as writers we all want to have that
publication right or like that that book that we finish and we want to get there
now and yet if we do that we’re actually
missing on the whole reason we are writers in the first place it’s to write
and be in well it’s like you might as well just be where you are cuz five
years ago you wanted to be exactly where you are
so I love that that is such wonderful advice and cut such a great reminder
thank you for just reminding me that because I feel and our culture does it
just you like they’re constantly we’re constantly pushed upon to do more thing
stay up later get up earlier get the book done get the you know publish
publish publish publish pitch pitch pitch and sometimes it’s like wait water
what are we here for again we’re here to be in process to be in communication
with whatever like you said the urgency of the work not necessarily the urgency
of what we’re expected to produce so I love that thank you for sharing that so
wise would you do us the honor of reading us a poem from unbecoming yes I
would love to you I forgot so yeah I think I will just read it the first poem
that you read in a line from wonderful so this is on Monday I decide to eat
five Kiwi for breakfast but before I can eat them the Kiwi leap into their skin
and wet and black the fur I to spill into my edges and have been darkening
since birth when I came so early my pigment still slept once I became a body
that was an older version of another lighter being once I was a new wet thing
once I learned to black I was growing into you was not one but many millions
of skins that everything I have to say was fashioned into safe houses at the
pits of my pores before I knew of a battle or the labor or a word so let me
lay hands upon the ones who want my body meted and I’m the ones who will watch me
become needs and say it was only one body I can read
the past to the wrists with my teeth i confide our seeing the stones and their
stomachs to dust but if they take me take my palms cook them up with ham hock
and Lawry’s seasoning salt and feed me to the hungry
give me to them name my skin a good name as a gift for holding me like a cross I
mean thank you I must be alive already on tomorrow’s tomorrow lovely thank you
so much for reading that and sharing your work with us that was wonderful
everyone need to get this chat book it’s it’s incredible and read it in Central
Park okay so what’s next for you and where can people connect with you and
find your work yeah what is next for me that’s a great question hopefully a PhD soon hopefully some more
writing coming out and some places I do have a Twitter account so if you want to
bomb me on Twitter charnel Peter’s just my name you can follow me there yeah so
we will see I’m also trying to figure out kind of what is next steps for me
and I’m excited to see what that is yeah it’s excited for the unfolding I’m
excited too and I’m excited that we get to work together all the time it’s been
such a pleasure and it was such a pleasure to talk about your poetry and
something outside of what we normally do together so it was wonderful sounds
great yeah okay thank you so much Darnell and everyone this book is
amazing head over to her website I’ll post the URL below grab that book hey
there it’s Renee again thanks so much for listening to this interview if you
want to learn more about charnel head over to her website at charnel peters
comm to buy her amazing book and read more of her beautiful writing then don’t
forget to download your lightbulb catcher worksheet that has specific free
writing prompts to help you take the wisdom you gained in this interview and
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