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N.H.’s poet laureate on poetry and losing the ‘stone backpack of perfectionism’

Alexandria Peary focuses her work on young people — especially those who don’t see themselves as professional writers

Alexandria Peary is New Hampshire's poet laureate.Jane Button Photography

CONCORD, N.H. — No one tells Alexandria Peary what to do. As New Hampshire’s poet laureate, it’s up to her to decide what her job entails.

She spoke to the Globe about why she’s chosen to focus her work on young people, particularly those who don’t see themselves as professional writers.

Peary shared this 2022 poem, called “Sonnet Branches” from the “Battle of Silicon Valley at Daybreak,” published by Spuyten Duyvil. She called it her feminist rendition of the classical form.

“The forearm of spring rests on the window sill

to the kitchen where I’m boiling opera for pasta.

This branch of spring is a real interloper,


a man’s arm covered in hard yellow blossoms,

No. 2 yellow, like a line of forsythia

in inter-winter-spring. Other sonnet branches

are scattered in the backyard, fourteen limbs

decked out in the darling buds of May.

The man’s branch intrudes through the open

window in early spring, so it’s a line in a poem.

Those italicized and underlined branches

about timeless beauty, a love w/out physical detail,

maybe the pivot toward writing and the writer,

I’ll have to pick up after them after dinner,

I’ll organize w/ a ladybug red wheelbarrow,

kindling for prose or a Triskelion.”

Peary talks about using mindfulness to overcome writer’s block in a TEDx talk and has written about it.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Can you start by telling us a bit about your role as New Hampshire’s poet laureate? What does this job entail?

Peary: The role of poet laureate is pretty much by and large self-defined. You get appointed and nobody tells you the list of chores you’re supposed to do.

I’m very much invested in supporting the writing of poetry for the residents of the state from head to toe. So from prewriting to publishing, with a special focus on helping people gain confidence and fluency with their creativity and overcoming writer’s blocks, which is my specialty as a professor through mindfulness.


I’m really about getting people feeling happier in their poetry-writing lives.

What advice do you give those with writer’s block?

The main thing is that most people carry around a kind of stone backpack of perfectionism and doubt about their writing ability. We’re talking people from all walks of life. They lack confidence in their writing. So we carry around that backpack of doubt and lack self-confidence.

The main thing about writing is that we have been trained to be mindless writers in our education across the board — to overlook the present moment. Training yourself to enter the present moment at the desk cures almost all problems.

You were talking about tailoring your role as poet laureate to working with writers. How do those partnerships come about and who do you work with?

I really work with people who maybe don’t self-define as professional writers. And so for instance, one of my major initiatives is a magazine I started. It’s edited by New Hampshire teens, but we publish teens from around the world. It’s called Under the Madness Magazine — the teens named it.

We’re currently reading for issue four. I’m trying to give teens in the New Hampshire area opportunity in the creative arts and editorial responsibility. Issue three is half Brazilian teens, and issue four will be half Ukrainian teens.


What initially drew you to poetry?

Two things. One is a birth defect I had as a child, and literally a pill made me a poet. My mother was prescribed an anti-nausea prescription when she was pregnant with me, and it led me down the path of poetry.

My parents didn’t go to college. I’m the first one to go to college. And I certainly didn’t have access to books, or being a writer. Being a writer was not something that was at all part of my community.

What do you recommend to people who are looking for a literary community in New Hampshire?

There’s so much going on in terms of creative writing, starting off with the Poetry Society of New Hampshire. Their website is just incredible. You could go to something twice a day.

In the Portsmouth area, there’s Beat Night organized by Mike Nelson. And I also keep a blog with activities and seminars to participate in.

What are your favorite poems?

“The Idea of Order at Key West” by Wallace Stevens. When I teach it to students, I love it so much I start stammering.

The other poem I absolutely love is by a contemporary American poet named Jane Miller, and it’s called “The Poet,” and it’s also just a stunning, stunning poem.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Amanda Gokee can be reached at Follow her @amanda_gokee.