Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Life of a Poet - Samuel Peralta

Kids, I am so stoked about this interview. It is a scoop! We are sitting down today with internationally-recognized poet Samuel Peralta, voted "the best poet on Twitter". His poems have been published in many prestigious literary journals and magazines. Sam is on staff at dVerse Poets Pub, and posts regularly at Poets United and Imaginary Garden with Real Toads. It is rare for a young poet's work to be recognized by the literary world, and Sam has been recognized by the BBC, the Canadian League of Poets, and others. He also won a Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for Literature, for his manuscript Pacific. You will find Sam's work at his site Semaphore : the Poems of Samuel Peralta.

Poets United: Sam, I'm so happy you agreed to this interview! 

Sam: First of all, Sherry, I’d like to thank you and Poets United for the chance to talk with you and your readers.

Poets United: It is our pleasure! Let’s go back to the beginning, Sam. Where were you born and raised? Do you have a special childhood memory you might like to share with us?

Sam: As to beginnings, I call Canada home, but I’ve lived various parts of my life in the US, the UK – where I received a Ph.D. in physics. I was born in the Philippines. That was where I wrote the earliest of my poetry, rhymed quatrains that my mother preserved, from when I was about nine.

Poets United: I knew you must have written as a child! And how wonderful that your mother kept the poems, for your Collected Works, (smile). Where do you live now, and what does your life look like today?

Sam: I live near Lake Ontario, right on the border of Toronto. By day I work in the high-technology and energy industries, your stereotypical A-type personality in the business world. I’ve led start-ups, corporate acquisitions – for example, I led Ontario Hydro’s acquisition of Texas Instruments' solar subsidiary – and have sat on the Board of Directors of several private and public companies, including one which made the Canadian Business Magazine's Top Tech 100 twice in a row.

I live my literary life at nights and on the weekends, on my Semaphore blog – – and as @Semaphore on Twitter. To my surprise, those nights and weekends helped me reach a poetry readership greater than I was ever able to in print.

Poets United: That’s what hooks us, isn’t it? Immediate response, as opposed to a poem sitting on someone’s desk forever. Sam,  you have won some awards and have been recognized by the Canadian League of Poets.  What are your thoughts on the time and energy you devote, of necessity, to work, and the importance of your writing life?

Sam: The story isn't about international recognition, or awards. International recognition meant that I lived in several countries and managed to get recognized in the literary milieu of those countries. International recognition means, now, that my poetry reaches numerous countries via the Internet and digital distribution.

But the story is this: I did have a meteoric early poetic career in the conventional literary world. Then I pursued my career in the business world - and lost myself. After being in that labyrinth, I re-discovered my poetry, re-discovered myself; and in this re-discovery, found recognition in the online world.

Poets United:  A poet always comes back to poetry, it seems. International recognition in the literary world is no small thing, kiddo. But I hear you about the online world. It has changed my life.

Sam: The story is just beginning, for me. Poetry is my best chance at immortality. Not my scientific papers, or the businesses I've run. A hundred years from now, chances are no one will remember me for my patent on radionuclide batteries, or for my ebook reader software start-up. But they may well remember me for a single poem.

poetry is my salvation

Whether or not there will be immortality, poetry is my salvation. It keeps me grounded in a business and engineering world that can be vicious and unforgiving, even in success. And that is why I write.

Poets United: And we are so fortunate that you do, and that we get to read your work! Why did you choose poetry as your means of creative expression?

Sam: It was always poetry, ever since I could write. I had a small spiral-bound notebook that my mother bought me, where I wrote simple rhymed verses about nature and people. I still have that notebook.

Poets United: Did the adults in your life recognize early on that you are very talented? Was there someone who encouraged you as a child?

Sam: Parents always believe that their children have some talent. Often, that belief can be so strong that it predestines that child for what they achieve in later life.

Poets United: Do you have any other creative outlets, Sam, as poets often do?

Sam: Poetry isn’t my only means of creative expression, just the one people are most familiar with. I’m a passionate songwriter, with about as many songs as I have poems. I have a complete digital production studio at home, Sonar-based, but I write for other bands. My songs have been performed by bands on both coasts, at festivals attended by upwards of 20,000 people.

Poets United: Wow! There is always an unexpected surprise in these interviews. Fantastic, Sam!  What makes for good poetry, in your opinion – your own and others’?

Sam: There are as many standards for good poetry as there are writers. What I try to do in my own poetry – to try to get at what I consider to be a good poem – is first for the work to have an immediate and visceral effect on the reader.

Then, if the reader takes the time to read the poem again, there should be an awareness of further layers of meaning, that weren’t apparent before, that deepen the meaning of that first, emotional response.

Poets United: So well said, Sam. Which do you prefer: when inspiration strikes and results in a poem, or writing to prompt? Or is that like comparing apples and oranges?

Sam: I work like the artist Alex Colville, who I greatly admire. He stores and sketches images of anything and everything – a horse, an Acadian cross, a friend’s daughter. These objects merge with incidents, philosophies, tensions in the unconscious – and suddenly re-surface in combinations he may never have realized could exist.

In the same way, I write to capture images and thoughts, but these initial inspirations almost never result in a finished poem by themselves. They ferment in the mind, combine and re-combine with other images and thoughts, until that moment when everything clicks together like the edges of a jigsaw puzzle.

Poets United: Which leads to another interesting question: do you believe a true poet is born, or made, (or a little of both)?

Sam: There is a poet born in all of us, and all voices are true. That’s what I call personal, or private, poetry. It’s what you write in journals and personal blogs, poetry that has meaning primarily for the writer.

But poetry that is meant to be read by someone else – this requires the ability to bend the reader’s emotion, to transform a private symbolism and language into a public one; this requires a devotion to craft, and hard work, beyond any innate ability.

Poets United: Oh you have expressed that perfectly. You have received a lot of awards, recognition, fabulous comments from noted critics, and you were voted as penning the “best poetry on Twitter”. (Wow!)  Is there one award or moment of recognition that you are especially proud of?

Sam: When my folks visited me recently in Canada, I gave my father a copy of my first chapbook, published by MiPoesias in 2010, “Sonnets from the Labrador” – a collection of poems inspired by etchings by David Blackwood. My father was leafing through it one evening, and at one point he started crying.

I asked what had happened, and he said he’d just read the poem, ‘Man Warning Two Boys’, about an incident on thin ice. He told me the poem had made the tragedy so vivid that he couldn’t help himself – and he cried.

That moment was worth more to me than any other recognition I’d ever received.

Poets United: So touching, Sam. I love that story! I understand you have a novel under construction. What genre does it fall under? And which do you prefer writing: poetry or prose? 

Sam: In the contest between myself and my novel, the novel is currently winning. The work-in-progress is a love story set against the Fukushima disaster, and I’m writing it in verse.

Poets United: In verse! That sounds very ambitious. Good for you!

Sam: One of my mentors, Ellen Hopkins, makes it look so easy to write a novel-in-verse, but it isn’t. Sustaining a poetic voice over the length of a novel is excruciatingly difficult. I’ve already set aside a first, and different, novel-in-verse for this one. I’m further ahead on the second try, but it isn’t any easier.

Poets United: I believe it. But I have faith in you, Sam! You will get the job done.  What are your writing goals over the next five years?

Sam: I have several projects on the go, a few collections of poetry – not novels – that I should be able to release soon. And hopefully I’ll be able to get that novel-in-verse to tap out.

Poets United: Would you tell a beginning writer to write only when inspired, or would you encourage him or her to write daily, if possible? And why?

Sam: Write when inspired – but don’t wait for inspiration to come to you. Writing daily is you chasing inspiration, not waiting for it. It brings forth ideas – maybe out of ten, nine of them will be unusable; but one may well be remarkable.

Writing daily keeps the mind sharp, helping you perfect the tools of your trade; so that when you eventually catch up with inspiration, you’ll know what to do with it.

Poets United: I love that answer! Is there a classical poet whose work you admire?

Sam: If I were shipwrecked and could only save three authors from the captain’s library, I would swim to save the collected works of T.S. Eliot, Pablo Neruda, and Craig Raine. A writer has many influences over his writing, but these three have shaped my writing like no others.

Poets United: Do you have a favorite contemporary poet?

Sam: Of the well-known poets, I adore Billy Collins. He has an ability that I admire and aspire to, the ability to be literary, and yet to touch the common man, the person who would not ordinarily crack open a book of poetry. The last American poet I remember who had the gift, to a similar degree, was Robert Frost.

But I discover many amazing poets every single day. Of these poets, see my Semaphore Anthology site!

Poets United: Could you tell us a bit more about the Semaphore Anthology site, and its purpose?

Sam: The Semaphore Anthology – – underlines my belief that there is poetry online that is not only good, but remarkable. It’s a site that collects poems from other writers with only one criterion in mind: they are poems I wish I’d written, but didn’t.

I don’t solicit poems, but I read voraciously – and when I stumble on a work that moves me – I ask permission to include it in the anthology. Over time, it’s grown into quite a varied collection that proves my original thesis – that poetry online can be as good as any poetry collected in the conventional literary journals.

Poets United: I so agree, Sam. What a great idea for an anthology. When you are not writing, what other interests do you pursue?

Sam: Apart from poetry, my business interests, and songwriting, I’m an avid art collector – mainly magic realism. And I read – voraciously.

Poets United: You have mentioned that you have traveled a lot. Do you have a favorite place you long to return to? Are you an urban person, by nature, or do you prefer being closer to the land?

Sam: I’m an urban person, but I love being close to nature. Where I live now – on the border of the city and the edge of the lake – reflects that duality.

Europe is an intensely different place from North America, with a historical gravity and grandeur that’s difficult to find here. If I could pick one place to return to and spend the rest of my life, writing, it would be the Gower Peninsula, in Wales, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever had the 
chance to live.

The Gower Peninsula in Wales

Poets United: Sam! This looks EXACTLY like my beloved West Coast. Come visit! You'll be blown away! What is your very favorite kind of day?

Sam: That would be a day at the bookstore, surrounded by books and nursing a Frappucino Grande, a new poem taking shape on my iPad.

Poets United: Oh me too. Scratch a poet, find a voracious reader! Is there anything else you would like to share with Poets United?

Sam: Well, as you may know, my book "Sonata Vampirica" -  - was released a few days ago, for Amazon Kindle, iPad/iPhone and Android. It's a re-imagination of the vampire legend, in fifteen sonnets and a prelude, an attempt to re-introduce essential horror into the mythos, which of late has become somewhat watered down.

To my surprise, "Sonata Vampirica" hit #1 on Amazon's Hot New Poetry Releases for Kindle, which tracks the popularity of recently released titles. It debuted on the Amazon Kindle Best Sellers in Poetry list at #40, peaking so far at #15, and so far has held its own at 2 weeks on that Best Seller list.

Poets United: Sam! That is remarkable! Congratulations! And you are so humble, leaving the biggest news till last!

Sam: I think with some luck the book may be able to go higher, especially on the regular Fiction list, which is always tough for poetry to crack.

Titles move up and down the lists, so one has to be careful with statistics like that!  What the first stat says is that the book was very, very popular when first released, compared to other newly-released Kindle titles. 

The second set of stats says the book compares fairly well in sales against ALL Kindle titles, including classic titles by Robert Frost, William Shakespeare, and so on.

Mind you, it is still a long way from the general Fiction list -vs- "Twilight". But some nice stats just the same.

Poets United: Absolutely! May your readership continue to grow. Any last words to share with Poets United? 

Sam: Poets United is my first interview after this book release, and I’m grateful to you for the chance. I hope your readers check out the book!

Poets United: It is our privilege. I beat The Atlantic and the Literary Review to the draw! We shall certainly check out your book. I look forward to continuing to enjoy your work online, as well.

Well, kids, Sam seems to be a poet on fire. Talk about a productive, uplifting and inspiring writer! Isn't it true that the people behind the pen are some of the most interesting folks around? Come back to see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!


  1. Sherry, thank you - I'm honoured to be in your Life of a Poet Series... You timed it just perfectly for right after release of my first Kindle book!

    I'm also amazed at how adroitly you handle your interviews, you managed to draw out a lot of things that I don't usually talk about.

    Thank you again! And thanks to all the folks at Poets United for their encouragement and support of writers everywhere.

  2. Wow, what a great interview and what a poet! Thank you Sherry for this interview. Meeting Mr. Peralta has been a treat and just back from reading some of his works over on Semaphore I have to say that I am in awe of his words. I really do wish I'd written some of what he has!

  3. Sherry, you found a diamond already cut vs in the rough. He is quite impressive. It's talent and people with such abilities that inspire a greater work ethic. How you manage to catch interviews such as this one speaks to how attuned your eyes and ears are. It is wonderful to know you Sherry. I hope your day is lovely and content. Tu amigo, nene

  4. With such wonderful subjects, and their amazing lives and stories, it is pure pleasure to help them tell their tales.......I never get tired of it and I learn something surprising and make a new friend each time I do it:) I have the best job in the world!

  5. Another great interview from you, Sherry. You really have the gift of drawing people out. I now know lots of things about Samuel I had no idea where there, despite having read and enjoyed his poetry for a long time, and followed his work. Congratulations on the new book doing so well, Sam, and thanks to you both for a very interesting read.

    1. WERE there--not where there. You know it's me making the comment anyway, with the usual typo.

  6. What an excellent interview, Sherry. And what can I say, Sam? I had no idea how multi-talented you were. Poetry, Business, Inventor, Novelist. And not mediocre in any of these fields. I always enjoy your poetry, Sam, and also so very much appreciate when you visit my blog to make a comment on a poem, oftentimes you have a very unique perspective. You definitely make the poetry blogosphere a better place!

  7. Thank you Sherry, for shining the spotlight on Sam! I look forward to following Sam's journey~ Congrats Sam on your Twitter status and I will have to go look at that new book! :D Wonderful to learn more about Sam~ Well Done, you two!

  8. A terrific interview...a terrific poet!

  9. Sam Peralta is my favorite modern cerebralist, and I am honored that he selected one of my poems for his Semaphore Anthology.

    Personally, he is a generous digital poet, a warm cheerleader of a critic, and an exceptionally nice person.

  10. Congrats, and I enjoyed reading about you. One of the main characters I see coming out of the digital world as a modern great poet and myself of course. Again what a great interview I say

  11. great interview sam...i am glad you are on staff with us at dverse because you def bring much to the table...smiles...and i am glad as well that you found yourself again after getting out in the corporate world...would love to hear some of your songs sometime....

  12. Dear Samuel ... Several years ago I read and was enormously impressed by some poems you posted during (I believe this was the time period) an April Challenge at Poetic Asides. You sparkled then and I am selfishly delighted and validated that you are being acknowledged and feted as you so richly deserve. Lovely to learn more about you! Thank you Sherry for another remarkable journey into this remarkable poet's life :)

  13. I "met" Sam recently when he hosted a Dverse Poets blog. I fell in love with his poetry and most of all was so flattered that he took the time to comment on my poem. I am quite the novice at poetry but I recognized him as a master immediately.

    So nice of you to interview him Sherry. You do such a good job of asking pertinent questions.

  14. Sherry - thank you for another fine interview of another fine poet. I've just begun to know Sam through the dVerse Poets blog and the nights he's been "in charge" there, plus the number of times he's so generously commented on some of my poems. I suspected he might be a bit smarter than your average bear but he keeps his absolute brilliance in other areas well hidden. His mastery in all things poetic becomes quickly evident every time I read anything he's written, frankly - I'm only surprised he's not more widely published ... he is very young though and I have to keep reminding myself of that ... if ever there was a poet who writes from an old soul source, Samuel Peralta seems to me to be such a one - and I mean that in the best way. Thanks again Sherry for such a great interview and thanks Sam, for allowing us a glimpse into your fascinating life.

  15. Wonderful interview Sherry ~

    Sam, it has been a pleasure to read your poems, and your kind comments in my blog. I never knew you live and work so close to must let me know if ever you are doing a live reading or promo of your work so I can come and meet you in person. Cheers ~

  16. What a delightful and fascinating interview! I very much enjoyed it. Thanks so much Sam and Sherry for a great read!

    And congratulations Sam on the success of your new book and all your many other accomplishments!

  17. Thank you so much, Sherry and Sam.

    I first encountered Sam some years ago as a twitter poet, and have been a great admirer of his work ever since. It's fascinating to learn more about him, including such unexpected details as the high-powered business career.

    Besides his wonderful poetry, the thing I notice most is his generous appreciation of other poets.

  18. What a fabulous life you have Samuel. What a lot of dreams you've seen come true too. Congratulations on the new book coming out too. Such a lot of talent and gifts you have. I was touched reading that something you had written made your father cry. It is the mark of a true writer to create those type of deep emotions in others. Amazing.
    Great interview Sherry!


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