From McSweeney's Books Q & A with Allan Peterson:
McSweeney’s: Why have you never taken a writing workshop or participated in a writing group?
Peterson: For me, the work of art is still solitary work, not a group project. Besides, I came to poetry from the visual arts. I was not on a career track in creative writing. I had not studied any poet or their work in the academic sense. I was reading and rereading everybody for evidence of a mind at work that expanded my experience from a uniquely personal point of view, the same qualities I looked for in visual art. With no literary training, little sense of poetic history, no interest in traditional forms and not much in narrative, I was very much out on the edges of literary life. Even later when my work began to be published, I didn’t blog, was not drawn to collaboration when it became so popular, and had no readers with whom I shared work in progress. My way of working, in both fields, has always been alone.
McSweeney’s: Do you read a lot of poetry?
Peterson: A lot. It has been my education. The other day my wife came by when I happened to be reading a book of essays and said, “What, are you reading something with sentences?”I have a large library that overflows the bookshelves—heavily poetry and nonfiction, mostly sciences, but also philosophy, history, art, dictionaries. Very eclectic, very wide ranging.There are omissions—almost no novels.
I do not read poetry in an analytical way. I’m looking for a feeling, a tone, a unique mind at work, a capability of expression that brings the world into sharp focus. The poems I hope for and hope to write are reflective, revealing, and incantatory. Incantatory, not in the sense of repetition, but spell inducing because of the aura of seriousness, metaphoric description, and reverie. A poem is not a caption to experience, it is experience, and not a reminiscence, though it may contain reminiscences. A poem is an act in the present.