Creative Study,  Issue 4,  Poetry

Creative Study: Ronald J. Pelias

Writer’s Statement:

I might start here: I have a friend who called himself an artist before he ever tried to create a work of art. He felt drawn to that label, and by calling himself an artist, he found himself writing fiction to live up to his own expectations. When I was asked to write an artist statement for this column, I froze. I’ve been writing poems since my high school sweetheart dumped me. I thought I might win her back by sharing those first melodramatic lines (e.g., “Loving was living/Now, loving is dying/A death of decay”), but their effect only provided her with greater confidence in her decision. So that may explain why I’ve never called myself an artist. To do so feels debilitating. How can I possibly face a blank page when carrying the mandate to be an artist? I prefer to call myself a writer. A writer is simply one who writes. For me, that’s what is enabling.

Or, I might share a claim I’ve written before: Writers, through language, assemble experience, and their renderings are always inadequate, short of their promise and their subjects. That’s what keeps me writing—the never-ending struggle for a better account, one that might hold steady, become trusted, be seen as the final word. But language, no matter how artfully crafted or how penetratingly insightful, never contains. At best, it offers a place to pause, letting us get from day to day. I write for the possibilities in the pause (Pelias, 2019, p. 102). 

Or, I might borrow a line from Mary Oliver’s (1994) classic book, A Poetry Handbook, that seems to best capture what I was trying to accomplish in the poems included here: “The poem is not a discussion, not a lecture, but an instance—an instance of attention, of noticing something in the world” (p. 74). And as I remember Mary Oliver and her work, I think of what she tells me a poem might be: “For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry” (p. 122). 

Or, I might note how I struggle to put words that satisfy me on the page: As a child, my grandmother would offer me a treat if I would weed her garden. I would grab weed after weed without any consideration of whether their roots accompanied their greenery. “Oh honey,” my grandmother would say after seeing the remains of my labor, “you need to get them by their roots so they won’t come back. You don’t want to start all over again, do you?” I see the writer’s task as knowing when to start all over again, when to plant and when to weed, although I find weeding to be the more difficult of the two. For me, pulling weeds properly, letting go of what seems to have taken root, is not easy work, but it is always essential to tend to the demands of what might grow. I work as a writer to be the best gardener I know how to be. Writing is a process of cultivation.  

Or, I might end with one final claim: Attempting to write poetry, writers discover Sisyphus’ pleasure comes with the continuous desire for a moment on top of a hill.


Oliver, M. (1994). A poetry handbook. San Diego, CA: A Harvest Original/Harcourt Brace.

Pelias, R. J. (2019). The creative qualitative researcher: Writing that makes readers want to read.  London/New York: Routledge.

And Then

after an ocean of drinks
we are ships whose bows crash
on the coast of our hips,
our arms, secure rigging,
wrap around until we are 
moored in a wave of sheets,
circled, cradled in the candle’s sun.


We sip memories like soup,
hot in the mouth, thickened

from the accumulation of days.
We stir as if remembering

is our appetizer for love.
Our lives are seasoned.

Our past simmers with heat.
We serve the promise of tomorrow.

Just Another Love Poem

Into our lives 
people swim like minnows
and then dart off

But you, my dear, a whale
of a woman,
swallow us all
by your simple breathing

We wait like Jonah
to be spit up
on shore


The moon remembers its shadow
Your face turns away.

My hand strokes air
The sun blinds the night.

In between
A star closes its steady eye.


The sound of the tongue
wiggling into words
makes way for syllables
slipped into the world,
and you knew, even
without any magical coins.


Ronald J. Pelias‘s work has appeared in a number of journals, including Midwest Poetry Review, Coal City Review, Poetry East, and Negative Capability. Ronald’s most recent books, Performance: An Alphabet of Performative Writing (Left Coast Press/Routledge), If the Truth Be Told (Sense Publications), and Writing Performance, Identity, and Everyday Life (Routledge), call upon the poetic as a research strategy.

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