A Conversation with Perugia’s Intern
Amelia Burton is completing a summer internship at Perugia Press, sponsored by the Praxis Program at Smith College. This is the third summer internship that Perugia has been able to offer, as a partnership between Perugia and Smith College. Jean Blakeman, Perugia Press board member, conducted an interview with Amelia about her experience as a Perugia intern and as a poet.
Q: What first brought you to poetry?
A: In eighth grade, we did a unit on slam poetry in my English class, and the next year I submitted a poem I wrote for an assignment to a local contest, which I won. I’d always loved language, but I didn’t necessarily care for poetry until I was introduced to slam and contemporary poetry. Then, as a senior in high school, my group won the annual poetry slam my school put on. Still, I didn’t think of myself as someone who really loved poetry until I started working for Matt Donovan, director of the Boutelle-Day Poetry Center at Smith. Working with Matt on the book, The Map of Every Lilac Leaf, and then the video project, “The Poem I Wish I Had Read,” as well as attending readings with poets and taking college-level poetry classes, fostered in me a love for poetry that I just didn’t have before college.
Q: How did you first encounter Perugia Press?
A: Last year at Smith, I applied to be a Poetry Concentrator, and as a part of that process I was sent information about poetry-related internships. As it turned out, the Poetry Concentration didn’t fit into my schedule because I wanted to write a creative thesis in my senior year, but I did apply to a few of those internships. Perugia was on that list, and it immediately became my favorite of all the places I applied because of its feminist mission and unique publishing history. So, I was more than thrilled to work with Perugia this summer.
Q: What have you been involved with so far at the press?
A: I worked on the reading guides for The Disappearing Letters, Finding the Bear, and Perugia’s new book, American Sycamore. I wrote a blog post about the experience of working on these guides, which in some ways served as a reflection on understanding poetry as a means of asking questions and grasping for answers. I also began a video project for the press, “Readings and Roots: Perugia Poets on Poetic Process,” in which poets read and share the origins of a poem from their Perugia book.
Q: What are some things that stay with you from the books you’ve been working with?
A: Lisbeth White, author of American Sycamore, recorded a video for the “Reading and Roots” series in which she revealed that her poem series “Awakening of Stones” was based on the question: What would it be like to walk out your door into the world each day knowing that you are beloved? Re-reading these poems, I can feel White struggling with that question and grasping for the answer, and the feeling of that reaching has stayed with me.
Q: Other than being Perugia’s intern, tell us a bit about yourself.
A: I’m a rising senior at Smith College majoring in English with an emphasis in creative writing. I’m primarily a fiction writer, but I love contemporary poetry, especially when I can hear it read aloud. I also have a passion for visual art, particularly painting and illustration, and often pair my poetry with images. I’m an avid enjoyer of Dungeons and Dragons, and I love to bake, sew, kayak, and practice yoga. I’m from Framingham, Massachusetts, but my home for the year will be Smith College, and after I graduate in the spring, I’m not quite sure where the world will take me.
Q: Do you have a favorite poet? Or a favorite poet of the moment?
A: At the moment, I’m fond of Jenny Johnson’s In Full Velvet, which I had the pleasure of hearing read aloud at Smith when Johnson visited for a reading this past year.
Q: Perugia’s work centers on highlighting the work of women writers. Do you see a connection between the mission of the press and that of Smith College, where you are a student?
A: There is absolutely a connection. Woman-centered spaces like Smith are invaluable for so many reasons, and as a writer, I feel heard in a different way at Smith. I see Perugia doing something very similar in uplifting the voices of emerging, woman-identified poets, and this was the primary reason I was so excited to work with Perugia this summer.
Q: How do you see poetry fitting into your life as you move forward?
A: I will always read poetry, and find ways to hear it read, and I believe I will always write poetry, even if I never pursue it professionally. I am also deeply interested in the world of editing and publishing and could see myself finding a similar role at another press in the future. I’ve also been attending and performing at open mics at Smith, which is something I never thought I’d have the confidence to do, and yet I’ve found those spaces to be inspiring and healing in ways that are hard to describe. I hope to continue finding those spaces through poetry, at Smith and beyond.
Editor’s note: It’s been such a pleasure to work with Amelia Burton this summer. With COVID-19 necessitating internships be conducted remotely again this summer for Smith College, a great match was made between Smith, Amelia, and Perugia Press! Thanks to Jean Blakeman for conducting this interview, to Smith for funding the internship through Praxis, to Matt Donovan for sending Amelia our way, and to Amelia for your smart, creative, and thoughtful work this summer.