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Delicate Observation

Jim Peterson

— Profile by Meredith Abdelnour, Layout and Design Editor for Elan Literary Magazine

“This is before color came,

when there were Sundays.”

            “The View From Above,” Jim Peterson

Jim Peterson, who will be attending Douglas Anderson’s Writer’s Festival in March, is a writer who grew up in South Carolina. Peterson is primarily a poet, as he’s published four full-length poetry collections and three chapbooks, but he also writes fiction, and published his novel, Paper Crown, in 2005. He’s even written plays, and was awarded the The Writer’s Voice Award for Best New Play in 2000. His poetry has appeared in journals such as Poetry, Georgia Review, Shenandoah, and Southern Poetry Review.

Peterson works on the faculty of University of Nebraska in their MFA Program of Creative Writing, and he recently retired from being a Writer in Residence and the Coordinator of Creative Writing at Randolph College. On teaching, he says that “Everything I do as a teacher is oriented toward helping the student reach a better relationship with her own purpose as a writer—including her own creative process.  It’s important that a student understand the positive side of all of the work she does.  If she writes a poem or story or play that misses its mark, she needs to understand the benefits of that effort as it applies to revisions and to her future work on other pieces.” I really admire Peterson’s perspective on progress, and how sometimes you simply must write through the bad.

His work addresses many different subjects, many of them related to the relationships we have with our families. “My Mother’s Back” discusses the helplessness he feels about his mother’s battle with cancer. “Remission” depicts his extremely impactful relationship with his father. “Trucks and All” paints a beautiful picture of his conflicting feelings about not having any children of his own.

Peterson often uses fresh, original, imagery of nature. In “Play Ball,” he says “we hunkered out of sight among the roots of a huge oak, staring up into the arched cloud of its canopy, wondering what the journey would be like, that long climb into flickering light.” These lines, about something as simple as staring at a tree, easily transition into more philosophical questions. In the closing lines of “Remission,” he says, “The crows come from everywhere, and the heads of pines grow dark and heavy and alive.” I can’t quite explain what it is about that line that appeals to me so much, but something about “dark and heavy and alive” resonates with me deeply. He blends together human emotions with apt descriptions of nature, and it has a beautiful effect on the reader.

Peterson strikes on very delicate observations about human nature. Take, for instance, this excerpt from “Trucks and All”: “After work I walked down the same isolated path in the park, the patch of mud filled-in with soft dirt. The tracks of tiny wheels crisscrossed everywhere, disappearing into raised oak-roots and underbrush.” After researching Jim Peterson and reading his work, I’m very excited to see him at Writer’s Festival this spring!