Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Long Distance Writer

(first published in Outlook)

If the United Arts Council sponsored a Poet Laureate for the Catawba County area, an idea well worth considering, it would have to be Tim Peeler. Raised in Catawba County, no one has nor probably ever will write more about the people and places, only sometimes veiled behind poetic masks, of this region than Peeler. And no one has done more to bring poetry into the area or bring it out of those who live and learn here. The power of Peeler’s poetry speaks for itself. And I can speak personally of his influence, having identified him in a recent interview as the most influential Southern writer on my own work.

In his younger days, Peeler was a long-distance runner, and throughout his career he has approached his writing with the same discipline, patience, perseverance, humility, and consistency that such running requires. Now 56, he recently sent me a copy of his 7501st poem. Here it is, ironically titled “7501,” and still demonstrating the humility that marks the man and his work:


I’ve written around 4500 poems since 1998,
3000 or so before the year
I got the needle in the groove,
And like my friend Charlie says,
I’ll die with a chest high stack of poems
Leaning like a mountain goat
In a half-painted closet.
My youngest son has promised
To burn them at the fire pit, one at a time,
But I know how he is;
He’ll throw them all in at once.

We think of Emily Dickinson’s nearly 2000 poems as a great achievement, and of Rumi’s roughly 4000 poems as virtually impossible. What, then, can we say about anything approaching 8000? Even more amazing, though I won’t pretend to have read all of Peeler’s poems, of the hundreds I have read, very few don’t qualify as good, and an enviable abundance qualify as very good.

After receiving this poem, I asked him why anyone would write that many poems. His answer was simply, “obsessive-compulsive disorder.” I also asked him when he wrote his first good poem, and to illustrate his previous reply, he said, with a straight face, “I’m not sure I’ve written it yet.”

In this time of Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame having become a reality, there is as much to be admired in Peeler’s attitude towards life and work as there is in the work he produces.

I asked Peeler what advice he would have for young writers in the area, and he replied: “You have to be a voracious reader, but you can only read so many books in your lifetime, so pick something that is either great or helpful to you on your journey.” He also added that they “are lucky to be in Catawba County where they can find support for what they do, the companionship of other writers, and free access to a local college writing series that regularly engages the services of world class writers.”

Peeler’s collections of poetry are as follows:
Touching All the Bases (McFarland, 1999), out of print but available from used Amazon book dealers.
Waiting for Godot’s First Pitch (McFarland, 2001)
Blood River: Selected Poems 1983-2005 (Rank Stranger Press, 2005)
Fresh Horses (Rank Stranger Press, 2007)
Checking Out (Hub City Press, 2010)
Waiting for Charlie Brown, a collaboration with Ted Pope (Rank Stranger Press, 2011)

I know that he is working on yet another series of poems, this one based on the abandoned Henry River Mill Village; I hope he is also putting the best of his work together in a collection that will inevitably portray a world populated by the most amazing people as perceived by one of our time’s most amazing writers.

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