Jonathan Petley

“Jonathan has a voice that is able to convey both pain and joy within a single line. He weaves words together so the reader doesn’t have to search for some sort of hidden meaning but is still moved profoundly in just a few short stanzas.” —Lizzie Thornton, Editor at Cardigan Press


What genres/age ranges do you typically gravitate toward in your writing?


I mostly write rhyming picture books. I love the rhythm and swing of a good rhyme. They’re light, silly, and clean, and it’s so much fun to play around with language.


But age shouldn’t really matter. We all like to act like we’re these mature, well-adjusted adults. I’d like to raise this entire year as an example of how that’s not at all the case. Most of us could benefit from the occasional six hundred word picture book to lighten the load and maybe find a few long forgotten take aways. (I.e., be kind.) Sometimes reading or writing too much about adult themes like murder or heartache can make you feel . . . old.


In what ways is your poem in Byline Legacies similar and/or different from your usual writing?


My sonnet submission is for an adult audience. I haven’t written poetry in any real capacity in nearly twenty years. Then I heard about Cardigan press and their call for anthology submissions. I already knew and respected one of the editors, Jamie Dill, from our twitter conversations. The problem, of course, is that Cardigan press wasn’t publishing children’s books.


But poetry—I knew I could write it, and my mother-in-law and I had been talking a lot about sonnets, something I’d never attempted. I started that night, and five minutes in I knew I’d made the right choice. I was able to employ a lot of skills and experiences from my writing of picture books; poetry helped me hold on to much of what I loved about writing for children: wordplay, universal truths, and rhyming. But I could also lean into more adult vocabulary and themes that don’t typically belong to a younger audience. I love it now. It’s come over me like a sunrise and I’ll be warming beneath it for as long as I possibly can.


How can readers best support you at this time?


Things in my creative life are evolving quite rapidly these days. Thanks to poetry, my writing is just now truly coming into the light. But, at the moment, the majority of what I have out there is in the way of visual art, with my favorite being a series I did over the early pandemic months called Dream Trees. I would grab my DSLR camera and go out every morning to the James River in Richmond Virginia where I live in search of old, dead and weathered trees to photograph. I would imagine tiny worlds inside of them. In the afternoons I would put the photos on my iPad and create tiny fantastical scenes. I worked on them for many hours with a twenty-four hour cocktail of coffee and night caps on the side—I’m sure I’m alone there.


I could’ve written an entire novel during those months, but I found being alone, in nature, near the water, to be a most excellent way of securing my sanity. I suppose I was lucky—a lot of people were really struggling back then. To me, writing and art are the same—they’re both about creative expression and soul sharing.


Until the writing really gets going I’d say the best way to support me is through my art on my website. But keep my writing on your radar. I have a lot of fun things in the mixing bowl, including posting new material on Twitter and Instagram. And, of course, buy the anthology when it comes out.

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