The Nonfiction Editors, Rappahannock Review: There’s a consistent, lyrical flow to your essay “The House,” even when each paragraph deals with different subject matter. In a sense, each paragraph functions as a different room, while the house as a whole is the form that holds them all together. With that in mind, is the symbol of the house literal or metaphorical?

Gail Peck: I would say the house as a structure is more metaphorical than literal, but I want the reader to feel the lives within the house, the actions of the adults, the hope and fear of the child.  The “house” as a subject has been consistent throughout my work whether in poetry or prose–perhaps because I root myself in place even though each house was temporary when I was growing up as an army brat.  Sometimes I’m writing about the house I wish I had had, or apartments my grandparents and mother lived in for long periods of time.

RR: “The House” blends stream of consciousness with actual events. How do you negotiate the line between emotional truth and the reporting of literal events in nonfiction?

GP: I enjoy writing from a child’s perspective since every child is trying to make sense of the world, and my upbringing was especially chaotic.  Children don’t have a vocabulary for what’s going on around them, so it is through the literal that I try to make what a child feels seem real.  It is every writer’s job to present a tactile world even when exploring the internal, and the balance of these two are, to me, what gives every piece of writing its life, its strength.

RR: How has writing poetry influenced your nonfiction?

GP: I have written far more poetry than creative nonfiction, so brevity comes natural to me.  I’m a huge fan of the “lyric essay,” and I also write and love prose poems.  When you dispense with line breaks and white space in poetry and move to the sentence, the paragraph, there’s a different sort of challenge: How do you keep the tension?  For me, it’s a process of seeing in images and describing things in a fresh way.  One thing remains constant in all writing—where was the surprise for the writer?  Frost said that if there was no surprise for the writer there would be none for the reader.

RR: How was writing your books different from sending your pieces to journals?

GP: The writing of any book gets done page by page.  When one sends out a group of poems or essays, the subject matter may differ greatly although the quality of the writing is consistent, so an editor is probably going to select what he or she is most drawn to.  When one puts a book together there’s the challenge of how to order the material which may or may not be thematic.  Whether it’s autobiographical or not, you may not want to have everything unfold in a chronological way.  With poems and essays, one can dip in and out, so a book’s structure becomes important.

RR: How did you get into editing? What’s it like being on the other side of the editing process?

GP: All of my long writing life I have been in workshops where I received criticism of my work and gave criticism to others.  I’ve had the opportunity to lead some workshops as a guest poet, and have had some private students.  I bring the same set of requirements to the work of others that I do to my own.  However, beginning writers need to be nurtured.  One who takes up running isn’t expected to begin with a 25 mile race.  Writing is a process, and the more you do it the better you get.  Nothing helps that process along as much as reading and being receptive to what others have to say about your work.


Gail Peck is the author of three full-length books of poetry and three chapbooks. Her first full-length, Drop Zone, won the Texas Review Breakthrough Contest.  Other collections are Thirst, Counting the Lost, From Terezin, Foreshadow, and New River which won the Harperprints Award.  Poems and essays have appeared in Southern Review, Nimrod, Greensboro Review, Brevity, Connotation Press, Comstock, Stone Voices, and elsewhere.  Her poems have been nominated for a Pushcart, and one essay was cited as a “notable” for “Best American Essays, 2013.”

Gail Peck’s work in Issue 1.3: 

“The House”