Occupying the Moment: An Interview with Alexandria Peary, New Hampshire’s Poet Laureate

By Kari Ann Ebert

A practitioner of mindfulness in all areas of her life, Alexandria Peary has first-hand knowledge of how that practice can help writers overcome writer’s block, engage with the present moment, and enjoy the process of writing. Many of her initiatives stem from what she calls her “lived practice,” and she writes, teaches, and speaks extensively, bringing help to writers who struggle. Her blog at prolificmoment.com assures its readers, “Your ability to write is always present,” and she takes a deep dive into the nature of writing and the paradoxes writers encounter when they sit down to work. One such paradox, “To communicate with others, we often have to forget about or overlook other people. In other words, to eventually communicate with others, we first communicate with ourselves,” opens the door to addressing the very essence of mindfulness. In this interview conducted through email, Alexandria discusses her initiatives as Poet Laureate, but also gives a glimpse into the path she’s traveled in strengthening her own writing and mindfulness journey. You can read poems by Alexandria Peary here.

Broadkill Review: You were appointed as New Hampshire’s Poet Laureate in October 2019, and during your four-year tenure, you are charged with the task to “heighten the visibility and value of poetry in the state.” Can you talk about your vision and initiatives that will bring this task to fruition? What have you already seen blossom in the poetry community of New Hampshire?

Alexandria Peary: Currently, my main initiatives as state poet laureate focus on offering mindful writing workshops to survivors of New Hampshire’s opioid crisis and the establishment of a North Country Young Writers’ Festival for students in the more geographically isolated northern tier of the state. (If you look at a map of New Hampshire, it’s tall and craggy, with population density in the south, closer to the more urban Massassachusetts.)

When I accepted the poet laureate position, I realized I could draw a nearly straight east-west line from northern New Hampshire to central Maine where I spent my childhood and started writing poetry. As a teenager, I had slim opportunities to explore my burgeoning curiosity about creative writing, and any encounters with poets, literary magazines, or other young writers left an indelible impact. So I wanted to give creative opportunity to the North Country, as opposed to the areas within easy driving distance from my house. I’m deeply grateful for the support I’ve received for these initiatives: a 2020 Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellowship, a Tillotson Grant from the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, and a grant from the New Hampshire Humanities Collaborative.

Aside from those two macro projects, my intent is to serve the writers in my state at every stage of their writing experience, from prewriting to publishing. I’ve co-facilitated adult online Submit-a-thons and a teen online Submit-a-thon (Jodi Picoult, Ira Sadoff, and Tom C. Hunley were recent cameo appearances); organized an anthology for residents and a series of online readings (COVID Spring: Granite State Pandemic Poems), with a sequel (sadly the pandemic continues) this April 2021, as a way to honor National Poetry Month. Because my academic specialty-passion is mindful writing theory and pedagogy, I also offer online workshops to residents on mindful writing to overcome writing blocks.

Online, of course, is the optimal word. All of us are sitting inside our green screen parentheses. I do think that the online environment has helped poetry and writers flourish in this state over the past year. Pre-pandemic, the driving distance between Littleton and Nashua, say, would have been prohibitive for attending readings and other events. I’ve noticed this year that virtual events are attended by writers and readers all across the state. We’re a much closer community, ironically, than we were during less socially restricted times of folding chairs and wine in paper cups. The people at Zoom deserve the Nobel Prize! I can’t fathom how driven into the margins of isolation we’d all be feeling if this pandemic happened during the 1980s, say, pre-internet.