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10 Questions for Charlie Peck

(Author Photo by Simon Sahner)

Around the courthouse they've built orange and white barricades,
directed traffic to side streets to reduce heads craning from car windows,
and as I walk the dog this morning with Kate, she turns and asks,

What do you think? and I say, Must be a protest. When my dad gave
the eulogy at my granfather's funeral, one woman afterwards
was appalled that he quoted Grandpa's favorite phrase, Smiling like a cat

eating shit. [...]
—from "Barricades," Volume 61, Issue (Spring 2020)


Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
When I was five our family was on some long car trip, and I sat in the back seat quietly writing a story. My dad read over the pages when we stopped for gas, and apparently I’d written about this hero who was out to “kick ass and talk bullshit.” In many ways, my writing has gone downhill since. Not one of poems since has had a speaker with such confidence.

What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
Larry Levis was probably the first poet I read and thought Whoa. I love the work of poets like Yusef Komunyakaa, Cate Marvin, James Wright, Karyna McGlynn, Carl Phillips, Hannah Gamble, Ada Limón, James Kimbrell. There are too many to count. These are the ones who just came to my head, and I’ll stick with those.

I also think I’m hugely inspired by the TV I watch. Seinfeld had a prominent place in my master’s thesis. I recently wrote a series of poems based on 80s movies, but that’s a different story.   

What other professions have you worked in?
I’ve worked in a handful of kitchens between Nebraska, Indiana, and Florida over the years, and also spent some time doing Medicare underwriting at an insurance company. I currently teach in the English Seminar at the University of Freiburg in Germany, and do some tutoring on the side for beer & bratwurst money.

What did you want to be when you were young?
I don’t think I ever had one specific thing in mind. I’d fall recklessly into hobbies and completely immerse myself, then grow bored within a couple of months. Going on ten years, this writing thing is the longest lasting. I keep anticipating the expiration around the corner.

Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
Sure. I think everywhere I’ve lived has its own influence. I grew up in Nebraska, a place that was brutally empty. Then I studied in Florida, where nature is chaos: vines growing everywhere, alligators bellowing, insects that look like aliens. Now I live in the Black Forest. Weekends I go out into the woods and understand that creepy loneliness that plagued those fairy tales.

Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of soul while drafting. Brenton Wood, O.V. Wright, The Delfonics. I used to never listen to music with lyrics, but now I like the way my ears only catch certain words, like picking up bits of conversations in a crowded bar. I think I could pick any radio station and get it done. When I’m really in the zone I ignore everything happening around me.

Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
I used to, sure. For the longest time I thought it had to be super early morning, I had to have my coffee, the music had to be just right etc., but now I think those were just excuses not to write. Now I just try to sit down and get to work. That being said, I do my best work alone. If someone else is in the room I get self-conscious they’ll look over my shoulder and see my bad lines before I’ve had a chance to make them pretty.

If you could work in another art form what would it be?
Food, absolutely. Part of me really wants to quit all this, move to the beach, and open a taco shack. I’ve worked with so many chefs who went to culinary school, and not one of them treated cooking as a chore. I admire that in a lot of ways, because revision is often hard, grueling work that does feel like a chore.

What are you working on currently?
I don’t really know, to be honest. I’m trying to edit a poetry manuscript but keep distracting myself by writing short stories. I also have been writing this essay about my weird relationship to substance abuse, but that one hasn’t been easy.  

What are you reading right now?
It’s the break between winter and summer semesters, so I’m in vacation mode. This weekend I went to the library and have been reading through their collection of Agatha Christie. Noon beers, street kebabs, and murder mystery. Life’s good.


CHARLIE PECK is from Omaha, Nebraska. He received his MFA from Purdue University where he served as Editor-in-Chief of Sycamore Review. His poems appear or are forthcoming from Ninth Letter, The Massachusetts Review, Quarterly West, and elsewhere. He currently lives in Freiburg, Germany where he teaches at the University of Freiburg.

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