Hannah Peck wonders why Madonna thinks comparing anything to a virgin being “touched for the thirty-first time” is an effective example of simile.

Puritan XXIII contributor Hannah Peck answers some questions regarding the composition of her poem “Principles,” what she’s been reading lately, and how mishearing vocals might accidentally inspire her.

Town Crier: Does your poem have an interesting origin story/compositional history you’d like to share? This could include interesting factoids or bits of research that informed the work.

Hannah Peck: “Principles” is partially a reaction to a kind of thinking that I really hate. I’d call it aggressive rationality or derisive atheism or totalitarian common sense or something like that. Richard Dawkins and Penn Jillette types. A very robust framework that denies the existence of everything outside itself, and in so doing, damages much of what is outside itself.

The title is short for A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, by George Berkeley, who appears at the end of the poem. He believed we’re nothing more than ideas in God’s mind and he tried to prove it using reason! I think that’s pretty endearing.

TC : Tell us the best thing you’ve read lately, or a poet you’re jealous of, or a poem you wish you wrote. 

HP : I’ve been enjoying Need Machine by Andrew Faulkner. Anne Carson’s Red Doc is the first thing I’m going to read when this semester ends. And I hope this doesn’t come across as too much of an ass-kiss, but I just read some of Mat Laporte’s poems in COUGH and really, really liked them.

I don’t often wish I’d written someone else’s poem, but I do often wish I’d written someone else’s line or phrase. This happens consistently with Karen Solie. For example, “the weighted moment buckling into consequence.” Agh, it kills me.

TC : Did music lyrics have anything to do with the piece we’re publishing? Were any particular lyrics important to you in your development as a writer? Is there any recent lyricist you’ve been digging, and why? Is there any piece of writing, by you or someone else, that you would like see turned into a song? Why?

HP : Although not ‘recent’ in the least, I’ve been listening to Emmylou Harris’s album, Wrecking Ball, on loop. Her songs are often explicitly Christian (which isn’t my bag) but I feel like she infuses enough mysticism or amorphous spirituality into her music that it becomes completely magical. Hers is the sweetest heartbreak. Yum.

What I really like about song lyrics is the fact that I don’t pay attention to them. I often have trouble hearing what a vocalist is singing, or I just kind of zone out and only pick up on a few words here and there. When I do hear some lyrics that I really love, it usually turns out that I’ve misheard them. Which is exciting because it means the words are mine! Accidental creation. This has happened a few times with the New Pornographers and TV on the Radio, and those lines will often become part of a poem.

I’d love for I Ask My Mother To Sing by Li-Young Lee to be turned into a song. Though many of his poems would make great songs, now that I think about it. His imagery is beautiful, very careful. Hm. Maybe I’ll grab a guitar and give it a shot.

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