Peter Twal is a Jordanian American, an electrical engineer, and the author of Our Earliest Tattoos, winner of the Etel Adnan Poetry Prize (University of Arkansas Press). His poems have appeared in The Believer, Poem-a-Day, Best New Poets, Kenyon Review Online, West Branch Wired, Gulf Coast, Ninth Letter Online, DIAGRAM, and elsewhere. Twal earned his MFA at the University of Notre Dame, where he was awarded the Samuel and Mary Anne Hazo Poetry Award for his work. He lives in Phoenix, AZ with his wife and son.
The sonnet is a poetic form that writers have turned to for centuries, and it endures thanks to its incredible malleability. In this session, we will talk about the sonnet not as experts, but as writers who are attempting to contribute to the "sonnet conversation" that poets have atttempted to weigh in on for so long, focusing specifically on the vehicle of the American Sonnet in our work.
The ominous beginning; the leap that starts it all; the moment of breath before your characters hit the page. Sometimes the start is the hardest of all. How does a writer dive into a beginning? Some writers outline the story arc, each character’s decision plotted to a point, down to the detailed minutia, while others meet the empty page with zest and vigor knowing they can and will fill in the gaps later. Writers often doubt their beginnings, no matter how advanced they are in their craft.
After the first course, your corsage flatlines into beautiful convulsions It sprouts wings, thorns, claws its way up your arm to swallow you goosebump by goosebump There is a moment when resurrection devours the most devout heart Deep blue the ink pen veins blow up behind my eyes Patron saint of stifling anger on the rocks Patron saint of politely melting into this tomato soup a spoonful at a time & we speak in fortune cookie all night The next dish, a ventilator An IV dripping into something already dead I order two specials Make the pain remind you of the one who signed your tiny gashes today A struggling creek, your tongue wriggles out from the baby's breath to ask Were we ever anything more than echolocation Patron saint of the meteor that falls from the sky: forgiven, eventually, easily
Though it isn’t the case for all writers, my poetry really benefited from the time I spent at Notre Dame pursuing my MFA. Tons of folks do just fine without the degree, and Lord knows there are problems surrounding MFA programs that shut certain people out, enable others, etc., but I truly needed that time and space to better understand my art, learn and unlearn a million different things. I was also fortunate enough to have gained unbelievable friends in graduate school and grow personally; so, I just wasn’t ready for the whole experience to be over. The passing of those two years meant it was back to the world of engineering, having a day job, that whole thing. My greatest fear was that I would slip into a routine of 80+ hour work weeks like before and never have the time or energy to invest in my art. Luckily, that didn’t end up happening, and I eventually realized that my engineering career was not a hindrance or obstacle to my writing (and vice versa). It was the perfect catalyst, the palate cleanser I need to keep myself grounded when poetry gets the best of me. Now, when I sit down to write, it feels more like I am sitting down with an old friend than working towards some sort of goal–a friend you sometimes want to strangle but, like, one you will always adore.
Peter Twal’s debut collection is attuned to the desires of its language, to the minutiae of selfhood, manifesting in ways that inevitably urge its readers towards kindness. Twal writes with an intelligence and skill level that remains awe-inspiring. The world in which these poems wander is well-crafted, fascinating, and deeply personal. However, what remains most memorable to me is their generosity. The poems give us their deepest fears, their desires, their heart, and ask us only to be gentle – both with them and with ourselves.