Peter Schwartz is the author of Old Men, Girls, and Monsters.
TW: Much of the work is directed to someone or something else a disembodied “you”. When you are writing are these yous a particular character or person or is it more metaphysical than that?
PS: Ah, when I speak to that “you”, I’m speaking to the great other which takes on different forms at different times. God, the feminine spirit of poetry, my father, my past, but maybe most importantly, my self, my innermost reservoir.
TW: The voices in this collection seem to modulate from the put upon to the empowered, but always up against something. Sometimes beaten by it and other times overcoming it. What is the unseen pressure bearing down on your work?
PS: This collection took me a few years to write. During that time I spent most of my time in my room. I had no real (meaning not just online or voice) relationships and sunk into the loneliness that comes from being that alone. There’s also the fact that I’m a bit haunted (see: ‘ABCs of loss’) but the truth is that my astronaut training program is simply not complete. You were right, sometimes I am beaten, but I think ultimately I will overcome this shit.
TW: Who are the poets you most often turn to when you’re writing? What do they do for you?
PS: No one and nothing.
TW: You’ve had a lot of success on the performance side of writing and have a huge reading tour planned for this summer. What’s the trick to successfully pulling off reading?
PS: I’m an attention whore and have boundary issues as far as the performance arty side to what I do (last time I read I stripped down to my boxers and read in a yoga position, but you know that sun, you were there). I also have Asperger’s Symptom so the flood of adrenaline I feel when I’m up in front of people is pretty intense. My solution is to take all those butterflies and expel them outwards by reading in a loud, emotion-rich voice.
TW: What’s are the pros and cons of reading in front of a crowd in your underpants?
PS: The pro is that once you’re in your underpants you no longer have to worry about commitment, you’re already over the line and free to do anything. I read ABCs of loss in my underpants because it’s about family abuse so I wanted to emphasize the intimacy of me telling those stories. Cons? I can’t think of any. Although the manager did say, “Wow, you have balls to do that. Literally, I saw them.” I suppose that could be a con to some.
TW: Do you enjoy these shows? Do you ever write with performance in mind?
PS: Reading poetry or non-fiction is literally my favorite thing to do in the entire world. I’d choose reading at a packed venue in some hip bar or bookstore over hanging out with a big-breasted girl with skunk weed who was on the pill which sounds stupid even to me but there it is. Or maybe not. I get to express my deepest self in public which I guess makes me a spiritual exhibitionist and that’s just cool. And no, I don’t really write with performance in mind. Funny you ask that though, because I haven’t written any poetry lately and I think it’s because the reader Peter has caught up with the writer Peter and now I am tempted to start writing more for maximum audience reaction. But I’m not really sure how I feel about that. I absolutely respect people who write this way and are skilled at working crowds but there seems something almost swanky about it too. I write from my cave and bring the result out to folks and I think they really dig that genuine otherness they get with me. When I feel like the material in ‘Old Men, Girls, and Monsters’ doesn’t give me that emotional charge I need to really deliver them with power, I may just have to go back into my cave to make another batch. I don’t know.
TW: In your piece “Letters to Air” published in the nervous breakdown you bring up a lot moments in your life where you’ve been wronged. Did writing that give you any closure? Like, would you be cool with the Clown that pretended to rip your underwear out of your pants during that birthday party? Or would you issue a beat down?
PS: Writing those letters definitely gave me some closure. I’ve written poetry, fiction, non-fiction and honestly, these were the most fun I’ve ever had writing. As for that clown, I’m thinking maybe you’ve contacted my mother and found pictures of him and are arranging some kind of reunion and that you are now very, very surprised that I have figured out your little plot. Seriously though, I think I’d just like that clown to read my letter to him (and any others if he wants) while he is not in his clown make-up so that I can see his facial expressions.
TW: What do you have coming up, publishing wise? Readings? Anything??
PS: My poem ‘flood control’ will be in the next issue of Sententia. I have a photography show here in Maine in January. Other than that, I think it’s time to go play monk for a while. Thanks.