Joel Peckham's Blog: Listen Here: Joel Peckham's Thoughts on Reading and Writing Poetry and Prose

December 2, 2016


This was recorded in march, 2013 at Longwood University. I'm reading from God's Bicycle and from an essay published in the the new collection of essays, Body Memory called "Swimming"
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Published on December 02, 2016 10:26 Tags: body-memory, god-s-bicycle, joel-peckham, nonfiction, poetry


This was recorded in march, 2013 at Longwood University. I'm reading from God's Bicycle and from an essay published in the the new collection of essays, Body Memory called "Swimming"
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Published on December 02, 2016 08:07 Tags: body-memory, god-s-bicycle, joel-peckham, nonfiction, poetry

November 26, 2016

Body Memory Just Released.

Hey Everyone. My new collection of essays, Body Memory, has just come out from New Rivers Press. You can order it at Here is the info on the book:

The collection focuses on how all experience, especially the most intense, whether personal or collective, is literally embodied in each of us, right down to a cellular level. The implications for the individual artist and the community that surrounds him are profound. Body Memory suggests how difficult it can be to let go of trauma and move forward since it operates in unconscious or semi-conscious terrain. How can we let go of experiences that have literally become part of us? But it also suggests that the body can be the site of pre-memory and pre-traumatic experience as well, and thus the source of resiliency and redemption. The body remembers but not only pain. It remembers the womb, the first steps and the first embrace as well. And that physical memory pushes us to continually rise and move forward, becoming something new with each step. Thus, though the title derives from the end of the collection—a poem that explores a traumatic memory of a woman being pushed from pick-up truck, the central realization in the second stanza is “not how fragile we are. But how easily transformed.” And the magic, horror, and hope contained within that realization is the thrust of the book overall.

The collection is made up of one introductory prose poem and three long, segmented, essays: “Swimming,” “Phys-ed,” and “The Shattering.” “Swimming,” is formed of one long, lyric essay in which I use my childhood fear of water and my efforts at learning to swim as a metaphor for facing physical and the emotional trauma that occurred as a result of the loss of my wife and oldest son in a car accident in 2004. The thirty-six sections move across time weaving the narrative of personal loss—into a larger meditation on identity and what it means to survive and move forward. “Phys-ed,” is a meditation on the concept of masculinity that explores the problem of masculinity in American Culture. Though it begins with a memory of a bullying experience from when I was twelve years old, the essay branches out from personal experience to explore masculinity more broadly, using locker room culture and the culture of a boys’ summer camp in Maine as intellectual touch-points. “The Shattering” is an exploration of the problem of expressing physical pain—especially chronic pain--and how that inability results in the isolation of those who suffer from it. As with the other essays in the volume, “The Shattering” works from personal experience and memory a means of reaching outward to discuss larger issues of cultural consequence.

In his blurb for the book, Thomas Larson has written,
If anyone can lay claim to the vagaries of chronic pain and grief, it’s Joel Peckham. I loved Resisting Elegy—the book, the title, the fact of not letting go of loss, for, indeed, who can let go even though our culture tells us we should. Now, with Body Memory, we get a set of essays just as fine with Peckham’s mature insights into his and others’ suffering. He is particularly sharp on the male anguish of competitive sports and on his haunted bearing years after his wife and son’s death, which his body is holding onto while his emotions refine and fade. This is a writer who sends me places I wouldn’t necessarily want to go but am heartened I have.

Though I don’t expect the book to be popular, I do think it has merit as literature and I’m proud of it. Individual essays from the collection have appeared in many strong journals. Two, “Phys-Ed” and “Swimming” appeared in The Sun, one of the most prestigious and widely circulated journals for creative nonfiction. The Sun also nominated “Swimming” for a Pushcart Prize in 2015 and “The Shattering” has been nominated for a 2017 pushcart by the publisher.
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Published on November 26, 2016 10:12 Tags: grief, joel-peckham, masculinity, new-rivers-press, nonficton, pain

February 12, 2016

The Children of Writers

I am blessed to be the father of a very talented young writer--Darius Atefat-Peckham. I've never really pushed him to become a writer or even to be much of a reader. But I think, much in the way that, as the son of a Ballet Dancer and an English Teacher/Guidance Counselor, I became a reader, an artist, and an educator, the presence of so many books of poetry and essays and literary journals scattered throughout his home and his life has made the literary arts seem intrinsically valuable to him in a way that it might not be for children in different homes. Obviously, I am very proud of my son's work--mostly because of how distinctly different it is from my own. I have not attempted to shape his aesthetic and have provided only the most rudimentary feedback. That is not to say he has not had the nature nor nurture that a young writer needs. His work reminds me, often, of his late mother, Susan Atefat-Peckham in its tightly wrought craft. It also often reminds me of his step-mother, Rachael's work in its concision. Sometimes I flatter myself that maybe he inherited a little of my sense of sound and rhythm. In the end though, he seems to be marking his own path. And for that I am grateful. As Billie Holiday has sung, "God bless the child whose got his own."

I sometimes struggle, worrying that Darius´ great hurry to become a writer--to professionalize and publish his work--might come at the cost of experimentation and the joy that comes with it. I worry that concern for a literary audience and marketplace might turn this writing life into work too soon. I have always read the work of Bronwen and Christopher Dickey with trepidation and sympathy. And I wonder how they compose with the weight of their father's very distinctive and often controversial life and body of work hovering around them. Thankfully, though Darius has had three parents who are writers, none of us casts a shadow so daunting. And for right now, he seems to love both the play and labor of words. And its a joy to me to watch him find his voice.

You can find Darius' work published in many print and online journals (designed for teenagers and adults). Here are two recent poems:

"Over Dust":

"Argue When You're Right":

He also has a new short nonfiction piece--"Letting it Be," appearing this spring in Brevity.
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Published on February 12, 2016 11:25

February 7, 2015

God's BIcycle: Kindle as a Poetry Platform

Just got my copies of God's Bicycle from futurecycle press. It's really beautiful and it was great to get my hands on a bound copy. Even though the book has ben available for a week on kindle (and I immediately downloaded it there), it didn't feel real until I had the physical object in my hands. Recently, I've been thinking quite a bit about poetry in the digital age and how technology is affecting not only the business of poetry but how we are experiencing it as readers. I know that some poets, like Sherman Alexie, are extremely resistant to having their work appear in digital forms because they feel that they lose control over the look and shape of the piece and because it feels and even looks disconcertingly as if all those words are floating on water and could at any moment sink or swim off, dispersing on the electronic tides.

I like my kindle app on my ipad. When I want a book, I want it immediately and love being able to click a button and just have it right then. I like being able to take an entire library with me whenever I travel. Finally, I appreciate that kindle editions are generally less expensive than print (God's Bicycle, for example, sells for around 15 dollars on amazon in paperback but sells for just a tick under 4 dollars for kindle) and that gives more people access to the words--which is the point after all. And as I get older I also appreciate the ability to be able to increase the font and read without the granny-glasses I purchased from CVS. Of course, then the form is broken, the line-breaks seem to switchback across the screen and everything looks bright and shattered.

But what I'm getting at here I think is that just those more frightening qualities of the digital age--its democracy and its fluidity of form--force us to face the words as the subversive, slippery, brittle, wild, shapshifting things that they are. We don't really own them, ever. They are not attached to us. We chase them and hold them for instant as they slip off. And that's ok. It's actually kind of beautiful.
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Published on February 07, 2015 08:02 Tags: god-s-bicycle, kindle, poetry

June 4, 2014

Interview at "The Interview Spot," Part II

The second part of my interview at Derek B. Miller's "The Interview Spot" has just appeared.
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Published on June 04, 2014 06:39 Tags: creative-nonfiction, derek-b-miller, interview, joel-peckham, resisting-elegy

May 2, 2014

Upcoming Interview at the Interview Spot

Acclaimed author of Norwegian By Night, Derek B. Miller, has started a new literary blog, The Interview Spot. There he will be interviewing writers regarding their work and their craft.

I am humbled to be his first interview.

Here's a link to the site:

The interview will appear in sections, stretching though the month of May.
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Published on May 02, 2014 07:02

January 22, 2014

Radio Show Interview Tonight

Just found out that I'm going to be interviewed tonight by J.P. Dancing Bear for his radio show Out of Our Minds (KKUP 91.5 FM Cupertino California). I'll be reading from and answering questions about Why Not Take All of Me, my new chapbook from futurecycle press. If you live in that area and are interested in listening in, the show begins at 8pm Pacific Time and goes for one hour. For those of you who are not in that area, the show will be available as a podcast at I'll repost the link when my interview is up, but anyone who likes poetry should check it out.
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Published on January 22, 2014 08:46 Tags: poetry-radio-show

January 6, 2014

Southern Lit

I have been a Southern Literature scholar most of my adult life. And my fascination with the region and it's art seems odd to some people. After all, I'm a Massachusetts boy who went to college in Vermont. It's kind of a long story. I had just been cut from my college baseball team and one of my friends offered me the poetry editorship of his literary magazine, Section 8, to give me something to do that spring. Problem was, I knew very little about poetry. So to educate myself I went down to the local used book shop and bought five books of poetry with about two dollars and change. I don't know what guided my hand, but those books would change my life:

Robert Penn Warren: New And Selected Poems
Robert Penn Warren: Brother to Dragons
James Dickey: Buckdancer's Choice
Galway Kinnell: Body Rags
Carolyn Forche: Gathering the Tribes

I read and re-read them all. I still pick up each one of them from time to time. But especially the poems by Dickey and Warren. The lines had edges and music, narrative and lyricism. I didn't get all of it, but I felt it. Buckdancer's Choice was damaged and literally disintegrating in my hands as I read it but the poems felt both visceral and incantatory. Even a little dangerous. The end of "Reincarnation" is indicative of a poet who is unafraid of himself and his darkest longings. Here we see Dickey reincarnated as a poisonous snake:

Here in the wheel is the last place to wait, with the eyes unclosable,
Unanswerable, the tongue occasionally listening, this time
No place in the body desiring to burn the tail away or to warn,
But only to pass on, handless, what yet may be transferred
In a sudden giving-withdrawing move, like a country judge striking a match.


Of course there were and are times when I feel that Dickey could or even should be a little afraid or concerned with his own darkness. But when so much of the stuff I was reading in classes seemed too tame or worse, glib, Dickey seemed ferocious. Warren was almost as good a poet. And he may have been, in the span of a single novel, All the Kings Men, our greatest novelist as well.

After Dickey and Warren I began seeking out other Southern authors and the voices of that region continued to be the ones that spoke to me most powerfully. And I careened through every book I could get my hands on: Faulkner's Light in August and Absalom Absalom. Eudora Welty's The Golden Apples, Flannery O'Connor's Everything That Rises Must Converge, Jean Toomer's Cane and later, Dorothy Allison's Bastard out of Carolina (Fiction), Minnie Bruce Pratt's Walking Back up Depot Street (poetry), Harry Crews' A Childhood (Memoir), Natasha Tretheway's Head off and Split (poetry), Ernest Gaines A Gathering of Old Men (Fiction), Kaye Gibbon's Ellen Foster (Fiction), Ellen Bryant Voigt's Claiming Kin (poetry), David Bottoms Armored Hearts (poetry), and Dave Smith's The Roundhouse Voices (poetry). Each book fed my obsession. I even developed an affection for the overipe but still delicious Erskine Caldwell--especially his God's Little Acre (fiction) (and if you can, you must track down Burt Reynold's audio book of that one--hilarious and wonderful).

There is no easy answer to why this particular region of the U.S. has birthed so many great and powerful writers. But as a scholar I came to believe that much of it had to do with the way very rigid social codes governing race, gender, sexuality, and class imposed divisions and dichotomous relationships on a landscape and economic system that required the constant interactions of these same groups. And when governance is antithetical to human nature, explosions will occur. Constantly. I tell my fiction writing students--no conflict, no story. And conflict abounds on every page. Even in lyric poems where there is no narrative, no definable protagonist or antagonist, there is a palpable and palpitant sense of consequence to every syllable. So when a Southerner says God, even if and perhaps especially when, he doesn't believe in God, YOU believe it. Everything matters. Every word is lit and sings. Combine that sense of glory and loss inherent in every action and every life with the rhythms of gospel music and baptist preachers and you have the makings of one hell of a literary palette.

I know I'm generalizing here. There really is no single Southern literature and the region is diverse. Kentucky is not Georgia. Mississippi is not Florida.

But if you do get tired of reading books that seem to look at the world and respond to it with a half-hearted shrug of the shoulders, if you're fed up with hipster cool and the language of exhaustion, you might check out some of these books. Everyone's life can use a little Glory in it.
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Published on January 06, 2014 14:12 Tags: southern-fiction-southern-poetry

December 31, 2013

The Green Mill Lounge and Performance Poetry

If you know anything about the slam / spoken word / performance poetry scene, then you know about the Green Mill Lounge and this last Sunday I had a chance to experience it first hand. I've always had a few reservations about slam and performance poetry--especially when backed by music, especially when it happens in a bar full of drunken hipsters. At its worst, the ambiance of the scene, the dramatic flailing of arms and shouting, and the music can all work together to cover up what is essentially really bad writing. That's the academic argument and it holds up at least fifty percent of the time (if not more). What academic poets won't admit, however, is that the traditional poetry readings held in coffee houses, and on college campuses are equally bad just as often--only there is no booze or music to soften the blow. Worse, really terrible poetry is often rewarded with the same tepid golf-clap and tiny poetry orgasms (ooohs, and mmms, and aaahs) that the great stuff gets. And you are left wondering if anyone in the room knows the difference.

So I guess my reservations about performance poetry are really just an extension of my reservations to all poetry.

Mark Kelly Smith is given credit for starting the slam scene in 1984 at the Get Me High lounge in Chicago before the reading series moved to The Green Mill and its been a staple of the Chicago Lit scene ever since. Smith is a former construction worker and is not traditionally trained. His own work can be a mixed bag--exciting but sloppy in a way that does not always feel deliberate. He can also be a bit of a bore and a bully. He runs the show every Sunday night with his stand-up comic poet protege JW. On stage he can be gruff, irritating and insulting. He's also a lot of fun and always entertaining.

And I have to admit. He's kind of a hero to me.

I simply have to root for a guy who will get up on stage after a terrible poem and CALL IT A TERRIBLE POEM. It's not nice, but its honest. It's a breath of fresh air. It's real.

And most of the time, I have to agree with him. He might praise stuff that nearly as bad but hey, so does everybody.

Say this about poetry night at the Green Mill. The drinks are good, the beer is great, the jazz is phenomenal and the poetry is always entertaining.

Rachael and I went with my brother and sister in law Mark and Mac and we laughed and cheered with a packed house of about 100 people who showed up--even though they didn't get any course credit for doing so! (imagine that)

I didn't sign up for the slam, but I did read at the open mic (a poem title "You Tell Me All My Love Poems are About Myself). And I didn't get hissed at or snapped at (Bad). I even got a few hollers (good). And since is was my wedding anniversary, it was a good choice.

If you want to check out some performance / slam / spoken word I would suggest starting with a used copy of Mark Elveld's The Spoken Word Revolution. It comes with a CD. Not everything in there is good, but that's part of the point. And the disc lets you hear the stuff and it all works much better that way. For individual writers in the genre, I'd strongly suggest checking out Quincy Troupe's work. Maybe start with Weather Reports. You can also youtube some of the past national champions like Chris August. Oh, and take a listen to where it all began by checking out some Gil Scott Heron

here is's write-up with a link from the documentary Slamnation

Hey not all of it is good. So what. Check it out anyway.
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Published on December 31, 2013 08:10 Tags: green-mill, performance-poetry, spoken-word