Peggy Capps
Photo by Allison Kwesell

Peggy is my grandmother’s name. Perdue is my maiden name.

When I set out to write, I do not call poetry by its name, but it always answers.

I got into writing like probably many other writers and poets—I was in love with words, and the way they could transform our worlds, transfix our imaginations, and take us anywhere. As a little girl on a farm in Indiana, my imagination was a part of my everyday. I wandered the cornfields with my brothers making forts, but wandered with authors every other moment I could, my mom constantly on me to go outside, put the book away.

So with this combination of reading and playful imagination, writing came naturally. It was not something I had to work at, because I had absorbed its rules through unspoken context. When my 5th-grade teacher told my parents I should be a writer, I was not only elated that someone recognized my passions and desires, I felt justified in the path I would choose. I even had a poem published in the local paper.

But it was much easier as a 10-year-old, to imagine writing for a living, as a life.

We moved to Tennessee just before I started high school, and instead of getting into all of the classes I wanted at a school that could have gotten me into the right colleges, I suffered through the leftovers of late registration, not to mention latent bigotry that allowed girls to only be a particular kind of smart: keyboard and typing being the one I remember and abhorred the most. Who learns to type in 9th grade? I had already learned that several years earlier. I had already been published, for pete’s sake! I was about to learn the injustices of education in the South.

Since I had lost out on “Smart Girl” at the new school, I opted for kinda-rebel. Wearing hand-me-downs and “ironic” tees, which were just my old cheerleader shirts with my name on them, complete with plaid shirts and baggy pants. Apparently, I was just another teen in the ’90s.

But I missed my chance at “Poet” when I joined the school newspaper as sports editor and the new New Girl at school joined the paper and introduced herself as a poet, and had already grown into her large nose and big eyes, so she sold it better than I did. There’s barely room at a rural Tennessee high school for one poet, nevertheless two.

So I went to college begrudgingly to become a journalist. Or, I should say, I begrudgingly went to college. But I was in love with the idea of being a reporter. During my junior year, I received the unofficial title of investigative reporter, and quietly slipped into the role of copy editor.

After graduating, I immediately started sending out resumes everywhere I could: Japan, Myanmar, Utah, Texas. Eventually I landed in Craig, Colorado. Probably the least Rocky or romantic of the towns in the West, but it was cheaper than Aspen, and my editor had known Hunter S. Thompson (who had shot himself the week I got into town).

I stayed for 2 months. When I went back to my parents’ home in Tennessee, I sat down to write the Great American Novel. I had taken creative writing classes in college, so I should have known in advance how it would turn out, but I set out to do it anyway. Any proof of my fiction chops are now lost on floppy disk.

It wasn’t until years, if not a full decade, later that I learned a novel wasn’t what I was meant to write. I don’t remember when or how it happened, but one day, after years of “not writing,” I sat down to write. And as I did, I realized what came out was poetry. Line breaks. Compressed, passionate language. Bigger questions about who we are and what our purpose is in this universe.

But poetry is not something we in America celebrate. And I’m still trying to get to the roots of it. No wonder I had gotten away from writing and poetry. How was anyone ever supposed to make a living at this? Or are we supposed to? Most say no. But if greedy men can make millions betting on other people’s money, doesn’t it seem right to support our artists instead?

Some say we need engineers and doctors because we need roads and our health. But our roads are a mess, and medicine used to bleed us to death. I’m in favor of technology and progress, if that’s what it really is, but for me, I could never live without art. And centuries of human cultures have proved I’m not alone in this.

I’d take any song that touches my heart or story that feeds my soul over a long stretch of lonely highway.

And that is what my poetry is, or what it aims to be: that long, winding, solo melody of road that brings us all singing together at the chorus.