Heather Lang: Hi, Peter! It’s a pleasure to meet you. Thanks for chatting with me today. I’m going to start with a tough question—because I believe grilling people is the best way to make new friends! (Clearly, I am kidding.) Really, though, this might be a hard one: if you had to describe yourself as any one character from a book or any one speaker from a poem, who would you choose, and why?
Peter LaBerge: Hmm. If I’m honest, I think I’d probably have to say the speaker of Paradise, Indiana by Bruce Snider. I’m not from the Midwest technically, but the paternal side of my family stems from Ohio, and I find myself inspired with and preoccupied by the tension between sexuality and the traditional values encapsulated in that society.
HL Based on your online presence, you’re an expert in promotion, including self-promotion, and I mean that, absolutely, as a compliment. The ways in which you carry yourself benefit the writers that you teach, the contributors that you publish, and the readers for whom you write. From your on-point personal website to your stunning literary magazine, you seem to know yourself and your aesthetic, and you’re not afraid to let it shine, all the while being sensitive to the world’s happenings and how they affect your global and local communities.
In short, a large part of who you seem to be is a writer who carries himself with both edge and with grace, which positions you to give back to others. Could you please tell us a bit about your mentorship program?
PL Thank you, and sure! I founded the Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program—an entirely free, entirely online program that pairs high school writers with established poets, fiction writers, and memoirists—in 2013, the summer after I’d graduated from high school and recognized the need for such a program myself. Oftentimes, even when young writers are supported and/or validated, they are done so in a way that tokenizes them, that separates them from the professional ‘adult’ world. It’s particularly dangerous because once this mindset is internalized (that teenage writers do not belong in the professional world of writing because they are teen writers), these writers emerge from high school and struggle to continue to engaging in writing, because those resources/contests/publications/etc. specifically for youth no longer apply to them.
In short, through the Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program, these worlds are bridged. Conversations are started. Established writers realize just how terrifically talented teen writers can be, and teen writers realize there is no one way to be a writer. And historically I have heavily encouraged participation in the professional world of writing beyond the program, from submitting to applying for staff opportunities to simply reading publications and poetry collections they likely won’t encounter in the classroom! The students, I hope, emerge from the program feeling like they don’t need to identify as young writers.
This year, the brilliant Carly Joy Miller will be directing the program, which will host just under seventy students from a plethora of the United States, as well as Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, India, Iraq, the Philippines, and more! They’ll be working with such mentors as Meg Day, Chen Chen, Kenzie Allen, Dana Diehl, Lo Kwa Mei-en, Paige Lewis, Caroline Crew, Shelley Wong, Doug Ramspeck, and beyond. We’re all basically bowled over with excitement.
HL Shifting to another Peter LaBerge curation, I must tell you that I absolutely love The Adroit Journal’s aesthetic. I think back to Issue Seventeen, which might have been the first issue I read. If we zoom into the poetry alone, Stephanie Cawley, Kaveh Akbar, and M.K. Foster slay me. After the first three lines of Cawley’s “Disappearing Trick,” for example, I feel weak in the knees: “The music we like is half carousel, / half villain. I cut my hair myself / because asking for help is harder.” This poet speaks my language! Now, if I were considering this poem as an editor, I’d know that I needed this work of contemporary literature after only those first three lines. What’s your reading process, Peter? At which point, when you’re considering submissions, do you typically know that a poem or a story is meant for Adroit?
PL Ah! I love Stephanie, and I love that poem. (And Kaveh! And M.K.! And all the contributors in that issue!) It’s funny—I think I used to approach the submissions we receive a lot more formulaically than I do now. As my conceptions of poetry and prose have developed, so too has my desire to broaden the aesthetic offering within each issue. The staff and I used to approach each submission with the question of, Is this Adroit? I think the question now is, Could this be Adroit? Like Emily Dickinson roughly wrote, dwelling in possibility is always more exciting.
Of course, the journal has also become incredibly selective, and there’s so much fine work that we just can’t accommodate. But that’s exciting—knowing there’s too much stellar work being produced!
HL When I read your poetry, Peter, I sometimes find myself feeling as if I’m reading an origin story, or a number of origin stories. My experience diving into “Gust,” as published by Sixth Finch in 2015, is one such example. Also, while reading your poem, “Digging Season,” published at [PANK] in August of 2014, I experience lifetimes despite the poem being only five brief stanzas long. I love this! Have you heard this before? How do people usually describe your work to you? Does it ever surprise you?
PL Thank you so much! It’s funny—I never expect anyone to have read my work because I spend so much time interacting and swooning over other people’s work through The Adroit Journal and also just being a literary citizen. That said, I always think it’s really interesting to hear which poems of mine particularly resonate with people—mainly because they are never the same poems, and also because they are never the poems I would pick. (In fact, I think this is the first time anyone has ever mentioned “Digging Season”!) I think that subjectivity speaks to the versatile roles that poetry can fill for every reader. In a lot of ways, living in a world with such subjectivity applied to poetry can inspire insecurity and frustration, but I think also it provides the openness that keeps poetry read and distributed across cultures and across wells of experience.
HL Peter, I’d like to hear more about your own writerly work. What are you crafting these days?
PL To be perfectly honest, I actually haven’t been crafting all that much since November. I’ve been really focused on graduating with my B.A. in English from the University of Pennsylvania, securing a post-grad gig, and promoting my chapbook Makeshift Cathedral (recently released from YesYes Books—and which, by the way, includes my diode poem “Every Gravity”!), while also trying to process and resist the frightening political spiral. I’m grateful that writing has been there for me ever since I found it, and I’m definitely still writing poems when I’m able to write poems.
HL How do the voices of the writers you mentor, publish, and/or read inspire your own literary endeavors?
PL Oh, in so many ways. Sometimes literally—I actually just recently wrote a poem after a stunning mentee-turned-friend, Christina Im. In other ways, it’s more quiet: the nudge I get from a mentee to exchange work, the poetic growth spurts to which I bear direct witness, the genuine, unfettered passion I see to learn and grow. The students I’ve come to know remind me that we are never done learning, and also that the more valuable perspective to apply to the world—regardless of life stage or level of experience—is that of the student.
HL …and, with all that you do, when do you find the time to sleep?
PL I’m answering these questions and it’s 3:16 am! What is sleep?
HL Thank you, Peter, for chatting with me. Do you have any final parting words for our readers at home?
PL Forget that the work in this feature is by teenage writers. Let yourself first connect to it. Then remember.
Peter LaBerge recently graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied English and Consumer Psychology. He is the editor-in-chief of The Adroit Journal, a global literary publication he founded as a high school sophomore in November 2010. His recent work appears in Beloit Poetry Journal, Best New Poets, Colorado Review, Crazyhorse, Harvard Review, Indiana Review, Iowa Review, Pleiades, Sixth Finch, and Tin House, among others. He co-edited Poets on Growth (Math Paper Press, 2015) with Talin Tahajian, and received a fellowship from the Bucknell University Stadler Center for Poetry, where he studied with G.C. Waldrep, Mary Szybist, and Dana Levin in June 2015. Peter founded The Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program in 2013, and continues to direct or mentor.
Heather Lang was voted Las Vegas' Best Local Writer or Poet this year by the readers of KNPR's Desert Companion. Her poetry and prose have been published by or are forthcoming in The Normal School, Paper Darts, and Pleiades, among others. Last year Heather was interviewed on Nevada Public Radio, and her writing process was on exhibit at the Nevada Humanities Program Gallery. Heather teaches literature and composition part time at Nevada State College, and she serves as World Literature Editor with The Literary Review. www.heatherlang.cassera.net
Farah Ghafoor is editor-in-chief of Sugar Rascals and has had poems published in Ninth Letter, alien mouth, and Big Lucks, among other places. Her work has been nominated for Best New Poets, and has recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, Hollins University, the Keats-Shelly Memorial Association, the League of Canadian Poets, and Columbia College Chicago. She believes that she deserves a cat. Follow her @farah_ghafoor.
The Silver Chase
I fountain desire
like a knife, like a mouth
of dripping moonlight, and you are
a shadow running amok
through the city. I pale;
you find me around
your ankles in a hand
of white wine. The thrash
of sky does not faze you,
the bubble and froth settle
into a corpse and you
are gone to be some bastardized
mourner. You are gone
and I let blood as thin
as water. I let my lips pull
open like a door, a silent
thanks to an absence
that shined me so
silver and glad.
Noel Peng is a writer and musician from the bay area of California, who currently serves as co-founder and intern manager at Glass Kite Anthology. Her work has been recognized by the National Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and has appeared in The Cadaverine, and The Best Teen Writing of 2016, among others. She is fortunate to be an alumna of the 2016 Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship program and the 2015 Winter Tangerine Writing Workshop. She is eighteen years old.
City visits / as a stranger
I’ve eaten the guns barrel-
first before self-immolation
was just suggestion. Then
came high noon the haggles
faced capital punishment.
Nurseries begged for more
myth, each child fertilizing
skinned moon. (at that point, I knew
how they broke each finger.
how to snap each one pretty,
the curvature of a back bursting,
They said, it’s always been about the bully
breeds: the children declawed
their own kill and slept
without sheets. I sang
open the entry wound then disowned
this mouth. Back then I swallowed
too much this city poked
holes through me;
caged I lay
prostrate on the gutter. I housed
the punctured softness from each
doorway, (the sign language “vacancy”
for the early-risers.) I told them
somewhere: sirens were out- singing Christmas
carols on wine-dark streets. a manger constructed
for a school fair, the glue-
gun still smoking.
The heaviest thing to do was to open
someone else’s eyes. In this case, the children
learned of sand, fell in love & closed
their lungs like glass.
I had swallowed & the city sent its streets
to the table. There I dined on recoil,
spit out their blanks like morsels of a body after ravage.
Eileen Huang is a student at High Technology High School in Lincroft, NJ. Her work has been recognized by the National Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, TEDx, the Kenyon Review’s Patricia Grodd Poetry Prize for Young Writers, and the Poetry Society of the UK. From 2015 to 2016, she served as one of five National Student Poets, the nation’s highest honor for youth poets presenting original work. She currently serves as a prose editor for TRACK//FOUR, a literary journal that showcases writers of color.
Looking Through Photos of the Tiananmen Square Massacre
there is no blood. College
kids with too much time.
Too much impulse and
not enough mouth. Too
much mouth and not enough
fist. Open your mouth too much
and it spills. White tiles painted
warm. College boy with
too much time, read a page
of Marquez, thinks he’s a genius.
Now, a cold body against cold
limestone. Not enough fist.
Students gathering in front
of tour buses, pointing.
Look at what you did. Look.
Soldiers in the uniforms
of their fathers. Man and woman
standing under a bridge,
umbrellas drawn. Trucks above.
Boys standing over a bruised
policeman, smiling. Look
what we did. Papers from the sky.
Papers burning. In the square,
they build a statue of a goddess,
Lady Liberty for those who
crave it. Girls with tanned faces.
Girls with green sweaters. Plaster drips.
Beijing, June 4th. I search
online for the word “candle.”
Outside, soldiers march. Blank
tiles, blank screen.
Rachana Hegde collects words and other oddities. She is dissonant in the company of strangers. Her poetry has been published in Lockjaw Magazine, Moonsick Magazine, and Hypertrophic Literary, among others. You can find her reading, or at www.rachanahegde.weebly.com
This day is all windswept
grooves and secluded high-rises.
A doorknob yawns awake under
my hands. Honey & flies & a breakfast
of cold oatmeal sticks to the roof
of my stomach. The trees have secondhand
fever, crackling alongside birds brimming
with milksongs. I am held captive
in a ballad that sews up my sweaters.
There are students ruminating with
slow gulps of lemonade, fish drifting
lazily in the school pond. Another
hazy memory floats in a clay pot.
A sordid figurine is smashed on the pavement.
Children prod the sap leaking from its finger joints.
The fish are mercurial, flopping awake &
a class president with sore knees blunders through
this year's harvest of confiscated phones, blades, and lighters.
Figurine is a boy, is dissected in the photos,
mouth: a crumbling hunk of sand.
His hands tilt with the quickness of glass,
wisps of paint caught in the stained smock.
We look at the body, at another boneless myth
splattered beside the pond & rainwater swills out
the bitter taste of the aftermath.
Katherine Liu lives near Chicago. Her work appears in BOAAT, Red Paint Hill, Alexandria Quarterly, and Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and has been nominated for Best of the Net. Katherine edits poetry for TRACK//FOUR.
Apologies in Tongue
If language is power, call me colonist. Call me postcolonial
orphan who traverses on self-made apologies. In English,
poetry lost its flavor. I spent years unlearning Mandarin, unwinding
the spool around my native tongue. Mía, it's imperceptible
why I would choose to beg in a language twice removed. Una vez,
you and me. Ni he wo, nosotros cambiamos por el bosque, la noche
the only one who watched us. Tried to touch us both. And I
mistook mo for more; you opened your palm and I put a maze
in it, said zhen mei because I saw the dead ends and meant it.
That night, I walked to you and if it could've made a difference,
if it could've changed una cosa, I would've tried it too. Here's a joke:
beneath the tree, la sangre con la sangría. And it's so haowan, it's so
funny how wan these lines really are. To know I am mute,
that I will only ever be one person in one place–but dios
isn't it miraculous to wonder, isn't it romántico to wander
language like a forest of its own, every old leaf new, every laoye
young. I apologize. Here's something borrowed: dui bu qi, I never
mail the words that could be. Por favor, don't forget I tried to speak.
Reuben Gelley Newman is a high school senior in New York City. A participant in The Adroit Journal's 2016 Summer Mentorship Program, his work is available in the Alexandria Quarterly.
Sad Reuben Listens to "Sad Lisa"
He hangs his head and cries
into skies dried up of everything
except his motion falling to the gutter.
Bitter thought-rain clatters
and slides through the drain;
he remembers hearing a song
when child & ignorant of music,
spins, ears leaping through the whirling
door of the past. He only knows
the tune his mother played on the radio,
the vague thought that it might be Neil Young
because that's what the other song he remembered was,
the other song stuck in his brain's groundwater, only
occasionally sucked to the surface
by his incomprehensible roots.
But in the Internet's cacophony he somehow found
that Cat Stevens wrote the song like Reuben wrote
the story of remembering this song, like Reuben wrote
the story of roots without reality in the hope
that this song—even without lyrics—
meant something. Reuben, who normally doesn't pay attention
to the words of a song, instead borne by the breeze
of minor harmony. Such weather he doesn't presume
to understand, Reuben who has no experience with the love
of Cat, but let him be the girl
Cat wants to love, to hold. So open
the door that sits on clouds by the corner of the street
where Reuben finally stops and begs for a boyfriend,
and when he never gets one and the roots
dreams and the water begins to drain
out his ears, carrying seeds shucked
and empty, let Reuben hop
into the tune, reside
in those vicissitudes of rain and never
think of himself
in another person again—
but oh the jump is long and when
in the wet will I fall.
Annabelle Crowe is a homeschooling senior living in Wilmington, North Carolina. Her poetry has appeared in Asheville Poetry Review and The Adroit Journal, and has been recognized by the Princeton University Poetry Contest for High School Students, the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award, and the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. She was a mentee in The Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program in 2016.
for Kaitlin Rose
In our city, clouds mount red tile rooftops
and a portmanteau of blue mountains.
Fathers sing a song about a mockingbird,
about replacing good things lost
with new and better things, a litany
of warranties. If that mockingbird won’t sing,
Daddy’s gonna buy you a diamond ring.
I’ve been writing this
since I met you, since our fathers
aren’t always here, or whole, prepared
to compensate us for realities they overturn.
Let me assure you that the galaxy is yours:
a silver-white rim like an old film reel,
pulsing with neutron stars like Astaire’s cufflinks.
I was once a girl mistaken for a boy
stealing third base, and you a teenager
who cut herself by accident. I am convinced
the world is like a Wright plane,
canvas underpinned by supple wooden
struts. Destructible, but sound. Aerodynamic.
I’m leaving on the 31st.
I don’t have any resolutions. You fold paper
pigeons for me as the band plays old standards.
Remember Paris last November? I read poetry
during the bombing and found out later you were
unharmed. The universe is full of gifts:
Shakespeare, F major, the terror of blank paper.
Your empty house smells like your hair.
The new year waits stage left in the dark wing,
ready to enter when you finish speaking,
so don’t stop. Give an endless soliloquy
of everything we’ve lost: pink faces,
versions of ourselves, and even you
a surrogate, a stand-in for the priceless thing
I never had or can’t remember.
The ocean there is nothing like a doorstep
—it’s a basement laundromat,
low level, running endlessly, a hum
beneath the town’s unconscious.
I deconstruct my life one verse at a time.
The actors redact their armor.
Now just the black stage,
X’s taped where they should stand.
Tomas Kontakevich is a Lithuanian writer residing in Latvia. He writes in four languages, favoring English as the prime conduit of expression.
Brother of Sleep
Treading deep into a dream
where a crowd of poppies
drums its unraveled scalps
against a sky grown shut with longing.
Then a child cutting through—a wince of a mirror,
or a beast of delayed movements.
Its soles moulding the earth as it runs
pressing roots into tangled crowns;
eager to reach the harbour of its own making,
complete an errand within another's skin.
The idle red gums its dimming approach
in a series of wasted bows.
Its open mouth
the first rip in the landscape:
a slight curve of the alphabet
enough to tear the world out of sight.