Talking with Lizzy Petersen

Lizzy Petersen is a St. Louis native. Her poetry has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Beloit Poetry Journal, The Journal, and Southern Humanities Review. She currently runs an after-school program in St. Louis Public Schools,

Lizzy’s poem “Anything Right Now” will appear in the Spring 2019 issue of Carve. Preorder to reserve your copy or subscribe with a discount by March 31.

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"Anything Right Now" has an interesting way of portraying humans in the digital age and how we seem to be in a constant state of searching, oftentimes for another human. What inspired you to write this poem?

At the time, I was dating, and at first I made a real effort to avoid dating apps. I felt like if I wasn’t mature enough to ask people out in the real world, I shouldn’t be allowed to date on apps. Eventually, I caved and made a profile over drinks with some friends. I was shocked by the format of Tinder—how there’s really just a picture from which you are supposed to base a split-second decision on. I hated the idea of someone judging me in that way, and then I saw someone I knew from middle school on there, so I was quickly done with Tinder.

For this poem, I was thinking about the apps, but I was also thinking about the game you play when you are dating, the one where you pretend to be disinterestedly interested. I think the nature of this kind of technology encourages that indifference, which can sabotage the whole endeavor. I wanted to get at that ambivalence and the thought process it manifests.

The formatting of this poem feels important to the reading of it. What about the subject matter led you to format the poem this way?

I have tried to write a number of poems in this kind of format. I love how a sentence boils down to its essential parts when punctuation falls away, and that syntax will have to steer the reader to meaning. The forced white space breaks down the sentence into even smaller units of meaning. I think with technology, we have become really good skimmers. We don’t really need the whole sentence to get the gist. This poem is really about hanging out in the vulnerability of that gist.

What writers tend to influence your work the most? Did any one writer influence this poem in particular?

I love poets like Matthea Harvey and Heather McHugh. Their approach to humor has been pretty influential to me. Their poems make their own logic and they give themselves the freedom to challenge meaning to get at a sense of other-worldliness. Like self-cleaning ovens, each poem is a world with its own parameters that can meet its own needs. The poem teaches the reader how to read it through the act of the poem. When their poems open up to you, it’s a real gift.

Is this poem meant to stand alone, or is it part of a larger project?

I think this poem stands alone okay, but it’s part of a larger series about the internet and technology. The main theme in this project is uncovering the ways this type of technology has altered how people think and behave and feel, not just the thoughts and actions and feelings, but how we get there.