For anyone who views a writing career as an impossible dream, poet Peter M. Gordon is an inspiration. After a 30-year career in creative work that has included theatre directing, writing, teaching, and television programming, Peter reinvented himself as a poet after the age of 50 – and very successfully so. In just a few short years, Peter, who is based in Orlando, FL, has placed poetry in a variety of publications including Slipstream, The Provo Canyon Review, 34th Parallel, and Poetry Breakfast, and in 2012 released Two Car Garage, a collection of poems widely praised for accessibility, evocativeness, and relevance to contemporary life.
The following interview focuses on Peter’s thoughts about poetry’s role in today’s world, how social media is changing the writing landscape, and why it’s never too late to pursue your dreams.
TZ: Your book Two Car Garage bills itself as celebrating the romance and mystery of everyday suburban life. Certainly many of your poems poignantly reframe contemporary moments that most of us overlook or pass off as mundane, so that we’ll never look at insomnia or dog walking in quite the same way. What was the most unlikely subject that ever inspired a poem in you?
PG: I started writing poetry because I found it was the best way to express my thoughts and feelings about turning fifty and thinking, now what? At first I tried to write essays, but each time I started an essay it ended up as a poem. I thought it would make more sense if I started writing poems from the beginning of the process. I think my most unlikely subject was the first poem in my book, River Rocks, which is also my first published poem. It’s about the sack of small stones I bought from Home Depot to create some paths in my backyard. The stones were called river rocks. I started thinking about them while working and later that day I had written my first published poem.
TZ: Some cynics might say that you’ve gone from impractical dreams (theatre directing, television programming, teaching) to absurd ones (poetry). What turned you into a poet, and what role do you think poetry has in today’s world?
PG: I can’t say those career dreams were impractical since I achieved my goals to work in those areas. I wanted to direct plays, head programming for a television network, and teach masters students. I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve always been able to do what I wanted to do with my life. I know many people who pursued practical careers only to reach middle age and realize they spent most of their life at a job they hated. I never wanted to say that. For me, poetry became the best way I could express the romance, mystery, and yearnings of my generation in a way that touched people of all ages. I believe poetry is a fundamental part of the human spirit, and will always have an important place in people’s hearts. Poetry is one of our oldest arts: some might say poems, specifically the Iliad and the Odyssey, were the foundations of Western civilization. Poetry will last as long as it can help people through hard times and describe the joy of good times.
TZ: So many writers are introverted and reclusive and have problems getting their words, however, brilliant or beautiful, out into the world. Here I suspect that your theatre background is a huge asset in terms of comfort level participating in writing groups, doing poetry readings, giving talks, and so forth. How important do you think these or similar qualities and experiences are to writers today?
PG: I think it’s very important to attend workshops and read your work to audiences. Here in Orlando there are several poetry groups that offer writers the opportunity for free, supportive critiques that can help improve their work. I’ve also found it helps to read my work to an audience. Their response can tell you a lot about what in your poem works or doesn’t work. Another reason to participate in these activities is that writing can be very lonely work, and it can be invigorating just to be in a room with other people who share your passion for poetry.
TZ: Do you think social media have changed the landscape for poets and other writers? How?
PG: Social media now make it much easier for writers to publicize their work and make it available faster to the public. I created a Facebook page for my first book, Two Car Garage, and use social media to alert people about my upcoming readings and speaking engagements. I have one scheduled Saturday, Jan 4 at 3:30 PM in the Downtown Library in Orlando at 101 East Central Blvd., in the Albertsons Room. Even as recently as ten years ago it would have cost me a considerable amount of money to print posters and buy advertisements to publicize it. Proper use of social media enables me to reach my target audience for free. Creating a strong social media presence also provides writers another opportunity to get the attention of traditional publishers.
TZ: Any advice for the rest of us who fear that it’s impossible to pursue our dreams after the age of 50?
PG: It’s never too late to pursue your dreams, at any age. After all, what’s the alternative – not to pursue your dreams? I think many people know what they need to do to achieve their goals, but hold back because they are afraid to change, or to risk failure. But I think the regret they may feel later in life is worse than not trying. I usually advise people to do what I did to become a poet. I was writing poetry but didn’t know much about what successful poets and writers did. So I researched that (the internet was a big help) and put those methods into practice. I went to readings by famous poets, I attended writers groups, I read my own poetry, and most of all, I wrote and revised my poems to make them as strong as possible. Now that I have one collection published, I’m working on my second. Anyone can benefit from this method, which is essentially to 1. Learn what successful people in your field do, 2. Create a plan for yourself and put it into practice, 3. Adjust your plan based on experience so you keep getting closer to your goal.