In conversation: Meg Peters
Meg Peters is a poet, human rights activist, writer, and former sailor. Born and raised in Connecticut, she has called many places home from Massachusetts to Italy. With an academic background in international law and global affairs, her poetry reflects changing global environments and the interpersonal experiences that occur in settings from the sea to large metropolitan cities.
Insights of an Eco Artist Team
First of all, can you tell us about your background and give us an overview of your practice?
My name is Meg Peters, and while I have worked in many practices over the recent years, I consider myself a longstanding poet, photographer, and writer. I used to see a separation in these fields, from making poetry collections and having photographs from the environments I would write in, and it took me a while to see that these pieces are interconnected alongside our identities. Our daily experiences are intertwined between human connections, visuals, and our own consciousness; this is my guiding theme in my current practice, which includes works of poetry and mixed media collaborations, and in short, shows the high interconnectedness and intersectional nature of the art and the experiences we encounter.
Your academic background is in International Law and Global Affairs. How did poetry, art and these subjects connect?
It was during my undergraduate career, where I was studying a liberal arts curriculum, that I saw how intersectional practices can be. Topics such as global affairs require such a broad viewpoint from global law and international economics, but also humanities and art to have a closer understanding of a case or situation. This zoomed-out approach struck me as extremely beneficial not only in academics but in our everyday life, where small moments seem to fall between the cracks of this larger viewpoint. In this sense, when looking at art, poetry, or writing, I really try to connect all of my experiences, from personal growth and work, into collections of the self, because we are not just one thing or static beings.
I am grateful for how much exposure these studies have given me, from seeing the world in a more holistic approach to even studying artistic practices across the globe, but also the experiences it introduced me to, such as writing. With a global perspective and mindset instilled in me from academic practice, this is the usual starting point in my practices, and it is the idea that not only the multifaceted approach of subjects but our own situation in the global community.
Not home, other places
where my mother
may be /maybe/.
I wondered where
the crash of my
armor may fall,
Why do I wish
this upon myself?
my bunk, open up.
I am a fool,
a long way from home,
one I never had.
settles into day,
a miserable man,
I cling hard to the
feeling of being alive,
my skin brushed,
maybe this is all there is.
Most of your work investigates the “intersectionality of identity and self,” and how these play an important role in our day-to-day life. When did you start pursuing these themes? What motivated you?
What started this project was really asking, what makes the self? What constructs this identity? As we go through large stages and influential moments in our lives, these questions, for me, have appeared repeatedly. I started reading more into this subject and philosophies, theories, or contemporary artists addressing these ideas, from works such as Judith Butler to Sophie Calle, I was more drawn to addressing them in my own work.
One aspect I found particularly interesting was the idea of identity in different languages and the perception of the self as we move through time. As we go through stages in life, from events during the Covid-19 pandemic to the changes that occur from growing older, we grow more distant from many identities we believed in, from our younger selves to even who we were before widespread pandemic-related lockdowns. These were themes and concepts that I was grappling with and I used projects such as this to narrow the thoughts and feelings I was experiencing over the course of the past three years.
One of your most recent collections of poetry and photographs illustrates the experience of sailing a historical vessel and the connection you acquire with the ocean environment. What can you tell us about this experience and the process behind the artworks?
I definitely have to credit the experience of sailing for influencing my current practice. This recent project was heavily influenced by reflections on this period of my life and the people I was able to meet in this field. And while I did not spend an extensive amount of time at sea as many of the people I encountered in this space, there is a unifying feeling and tether to being a part of this community of people who are passionate and move through a purposeful routine. In a location such as this, you become directly affected by the natural environment, as it dictates a large portion of daily life. Whether it be changing weather conditions or the state of the sea, you become connected to the ocean environment in a very personal way. Many of the photographs and artworks were visuals I saw in my daily routine, moments that I was eager to capture in brief or intimate moments. When thinking about how to visualize these moments for a viewer unfamiliar with this maritime space, adding these illustrations was a connection point between my memory and the emotions evoked in my writing.
While working and living on board, I encountered amazing artists, energetic writers, and activists that spanned a wide variety of fields. It was a unique environment of people who sought a lifestyle that was not confined to a regular 9-5 or restricted that many land experiences may bring. This space not only challenged me to commit 100% of myself to something but also was an environment that required reflection to process all that was going on, from a heavy storm at sea to finding a deep community amongst people in a demanding environment. Writing about this was a way to undertake and face this change in a way that confronts all of these questions I was having.
How do you normally start a new project? How do poems and photographs intertwine in terms of process?
Entering new environments has introduced me to the idea of how liquid language can be, from learning a second or third language to shaping our physical feelings into visual words, this process can be extremely illuminating for oneself. Recently, my projects have occurred after changing and challenging experiences I have undergone. During my time living in Rome, I would write either while getting coffee or walking along the street. There was so much change around me, from community and culture, that I used these in-between times to place these emotions into words. As I learned Italian, my work focused more and more on precise language or playing with words; I became hyper-aware of the way words sounded and the meaning they did, or possibly did not, carry.
As I was working on this first project, many of the moments of writing I could not dissect from the moments I was surrounded by. The art of visual influence worked its way into the meaning of the works I was writing. This was the starting point of my intertwining of poems and photographs that became a prominent aspect of my projects that followed. I believe that adding this provides a more personal attribute to writing, to myself and the reader, and adding them within the process felt like a larger tribute to the environments I was encompassed in and the perceptible moments I was a part of.
The burden of being alive pushes past the setting sun
Free will cannot take you there,
like a bus downtown, seated next to perpetually propelling strangers,
a monastery for doubt
Humidity sweeps your face,
don’t you remember?
See it there, calling you,
surrender to solitude.
I knew you would be ok,
I knew kneeling two years (two years) would pass through,
a contemporary orbit, orchestrated demand does not fall lightly,
Baptized in billions,
I am yours for the taking,
take me home.
The kingdom of animals,
If I could save you with my words I would no longer speak lightly.
Hold close what slopes you, scaling down, descendants that will follow,
Add music behind this moment
and I too would be crying,
take my words as a weapon.
Disregard your insignificance,
solitude is no remedy for a broken heart.
These thoughts are all I have, no defense,
reckon with my heart, string along.
I am no longer afraid.
Tattoo fruit to your finger,
find family at your lowest.
The words I want to say will only break me, if I call you, I may start weeping.
Your baggage is not a burden.
I have loved many people,
I have never loved lightly
Take your baggage
like a greeting, great desires that follow.
The only home I’ve had is not a home,
but a feeling
I would ask you to stay,
but leavings let love,
and I’d rather love than lose this,
I’d rather loved you than lose you.
Why do you think you devote your practice to depicting the ocean environments and the experience of being a sailor?
Throughout our lives, we encounter experiences that have a profound impact on beliefs or artistic practices, and I am definitely lucky that mine includes the ocean and the elements of living at sea. When in this environment, you are constantly reminded that you are a part of something larger, whether it be the natural elements or even the community of people you are surrounded by.
This is something that I rarely see in the case of modern lifestyles, with feats in rapidly changing technology, metropolitan living, large-scale developmental practices, but in this instance, everything you do is at the hand of the ocean environment you rely on. It is in this relationship that I try to face my relationship with the environment I am surrounded by, that we are at the hands of nature. I hope to bring this feeling to my work, and show how we as humans can not control everything; however, I think this brings great power to the aspects of our lives that we can have control over, such as the person we want to be or the community of people we can confide in.
You were born and raised in Connecticut but call many places home from Massachusetts to Italy. What can you tell us about this experience?
I have definitely had to grapple with the concept of home throughout my writing and practice. I have come to realize that home, which also plays into a larger part of our identity, is not a fixed belief or “thing”. It took me to move through different communities and concepts of home that
allowed me to see clearly this experience and how we can make our own concepts of home. This experience has definitely allowed me to become more open and vulnerable in different environments, which has led me to turn to writing even more. I think this is a universal feeling of being tethered to a concept of “home”, and influences a lot of choices and decisions made throughout life.
Looking back, how do you think this influenced the person and artist you are today?
I think these experiences influenced all aspects of my identity as an artist and as a person. Whether it be the languages learned or the people I have been able to meet, the experiences we go through can have a deep effect on our perspective, mindset, or fundamental beliefs. Without these experiences, I do not think I would know what pursuing something 100% would be due to the fact that most of these commitments, such as sailing, often require everything you have. I have never been in a position such as this and made me really rethink a lot of aspects of my identity, which is shown in my most recent project.
Where do you position your practice within the contemporary art world?
Looking at the evolution of contemporary art, the forms of poetry have constantly inspired me and I have been drawn to the use of language in contemporary art. Having seen a boom of poetry in the art sphere, from Marcel Broodthaers or the practices in Dadaism, I have seen the use of words within the scope of artistic works to reframe thought or perspective. Poetry and contemporary art share similar roles, and I hope to tie them together in a way that not only makes both accessible to each other but also looking at how language can produce meaning in a visual and thoughtful manner.
What are you working on now? Do you have any new projects you would like to share with our readers?
As I finish this current collection, I am very eager to share upcoming projects, more writing, and exhibitions for the future. I am excited to soon announce a physical exhibition space, so stay tuned for more poetry, photographs, and some new elements in my work.
Lastly, any artist, podcast, book, or platform you would like to recommend?
There's so much work I draw inspiration from and would love to recommend for others to experience. I have definitely found deep inspiration from poets and writers that have written profound works, such as Don Mee Choi, Ocean Vuong, and Kyle Dargan; all works that I recommend to anyone who is interested in contemporary or innovative writing. I am constantly inspired by the work that is produced at Mattatoio, in Rome, Italy, which is a truly unique and innovative contemporary arts venue and space that has produced really inspiring work done by great artists. Lastly, I highly recommend looking at small literary presses featuring emerging artists and writers. Literary magazines and presses are a great way to find new works and see what is out there in a constantly evolving space of art and writing; there are so many poets and creators out there that are making and defining a new life for poetry and the people that read it.
See the project See, Solitude by the artist here.
Meg Peters is a poet, human rights activist, writer, and former sailor. Born and raised in Connecticut, she has called many places home from Massachusetts to Italy. With an academic background in international law and global affairs, her poetry reflects changing global environments and the interpersonal experiences that occur in settings from the sea to large metropolitan cities. With a specialization in poetry, prose, and mixed media art, she has works that reflect on the intersectionality of identity and self, and pushes to ask who we are without the social or language structures that uphold these beliefs. Through moments of traveling throughout regions in Europe and Asia and from working on a schooner in New England, her work challenges traditional poetic thought and societal structures while highlighting the process of a changing identity and self. In her most recent collection of poetry and photographs, capturing the environment of the ocean and the modern experience of sailing a historical vessel, she speaks to the development of the self in the highly dynamic social and natural world.