8 Questions With I Hope You Stay Poet Courtney Peppernell
“Remove what doesn’t let you grow, instead let light and love in,” poet Courtney Peppernell writes in her latest collection, I Hope You Stay, released this March from Andrews McMeel. This advice appears in different ways across many of the book’s poems, as Peppernell takes her readers on a winding, emotional arc from heartache to hope.
Peppernell describes I Hope You Stay, the follow-up to her bestselling Pillow Thoughts trilogy, as a celebration of “choosing to stay and face life.” Peppernell, who currently shares her words with an audience of more than one hundred thousand Instagram followers, talked with Read Poetry about the special relationship she shares with her readers, the themes she tries to emphasize in every book, and future creative collaborations.
Kara Lewis: The book begins with poems that chronicle the messy, painful end of a relationship. How did you approach writing this personal subject matter, and what advice would you give other poets who are writing through difficult times?
Courtney Peppernell: I always like to write about journeys, because I think no matter what stage of life you are in or what you’re going through, we’re all undertaking one. I am happily married now, so writing about heartbreak doesn’t come as easily as it once did. This is why I rely on inspiration from the stories my readers share with me about their own heartbreak. I always try to write from the heart. My advice to other poets would just be to write how you feel. Be honest in how you express yourself.
KL: One of the qualities that makes this collection shine is the specificity, from mentioning the secret code of knocking three times on someone’s door to reminiscing about leftover takeout. How do you decide what details and images to include in your poems?
CP: I love storytelling. Life is filled with intricate details and small moments for a poet. I like to include something for everyone because my audience is broad. I have readers from all ages and all over the world, so I want to choose details or “life moments” that could happen to anyone and everyone. I’ll usually write the first draft, complete the editing process with my editor, then re-write most of the book the night before the manuscript is due because I will be wanting to add in more imagery.
KL: At some points, you write in the first-person voice, but at other moments in the book you write in the second and third person. How did shifting between these perspectives impact your writing process?
CP: I chop and change perspectives as I see fit to the particular poem. No one knows if I am writing about myself, someone I know, a stranger, or to the reader themselves. It adds mystery and is up to the readers’ interpretation.
KL: During the section of the book titled “you will dream,” some poems are written to a future lover. How would you describe the process of writing poems to an imagined future partner?
CP: These days, I am definitely “in character” when I write poems like this because I have already met the love of my life. But I think it’s neat to imagine back to the time I hadn’t met my wife and what I “thought” I was looking for in someone. Some of it is the same – trust, honesty, kindness – but other parts are different because I don’t think you can ever predict the person you eventually fall for! I receive these long, thought-out emails from people and they explain their lives to me. Lots of them talk about “the person they want to meet” or “the person they have fallen for.” They share deep, intimate details, and I get inspiration from those stories.
KL: This collection is both about falling in love with someone new and falling back in love with the self. How do these two experiences overlap in your poetry?
CP: I have always made sure that love – either love for someone, a place or experience, or love for yourself – features in each of my books because love is so important. After any sort of challenge, people question themselves and their worth. They need to be able to find that sense of self-worth again. I try to draw parallels between allowing love back into your life, whether that is through a relationship, friendship or the inner-journey one takes after heartbreak.
KL: Overall, this book leads the reader on a journey, exemplified by the section titles (“you will ache,” “you will dream,” “you will love,” “you will heal,” and “you will rise”). Did you have these section breaks in mind as you wrote, or did they develop later? Did you write these sections in a chronological order? Lastly, how did this underlying journey help define the collection?
CP: Ever since Pillow Thoughts, my audience has attributed dividing poetry into sections based on how one is feeling to my brand. A reader is meant to go through a journey, but that doesn’t mean the journey needs to be taken in chronological order. Let’s face it, life isn’t built that way! We have ups and downs, we get through certain feelings, only to have them resurface again. I generally think about what themes I want to talk about, how those themes can fit together to create a journey, but also how each individual poem can be read at different times and still hold meaning. I sat down, thought about my sections, and wrote them in order. I Hope You Stay is about “rising to the occasion” and choosing to stay and face life.
KL: How does having a large Instagram following affect your poetry?
CP: Instagram helps in sharing my work and keeping in touch with my readers who may not otherwise know about a book launch or new project. However, I never started with Instagram. I started by publishing a book. I do encourage new poets to share their poetry on Instagram, as growing an audience is important. Overall, though, having a large Instagram following does not guarantee a successful book; writing a good book does!
KL: What’s next for you creatively?
CP: I have lots of things happening, I’m so excited! My merchandise is launching April 1st for National Poetry Month. I’m making some major changes to the Pillow Thoughts app. I have a poetry collaboration with poet Zack Grey coming up, as well as Pillow Thoughts IV: Stitching the Soul! I am also releasing Pillow Thoughts candles and pins. I have my own notebook and journal company now with my good friend Wilder, called Wilder Thoughts. We’re branching out with gratitude journals. I’m always doing things, sometimes maybe too much, but ultimately I want to make my readers proud.
Order I Hope You Stay here.