Grace Jordan, Campus Carrier arts & living editor
Clinton Peters, visiting assistant professor of creative writing, recently came out with a book compiled of twelve essays. “Mountain Madness: Found and Lost in the Peaks of America and Japan” follows Peters over dormant volcanoes, through the streets of Tokyo and to the mountain tops of Japan and North America.
Peters has always had a penchant for writing, yet he believed his career would take him outside in the wilderness. While he still finds himself outside, his life has taken a dramatic turn from the small town Texas boy who thought he would live his life outside.
“While I was in college, I was an outdoor, wilderness guy and I had thought for a while that was going to be my career,” Peters said. “I thought I would just do this, I would go up mountains, rock climb, and canoe for as long as I could. I really did, I fell in love with that.”
Peters talks of an experience that made him want to spend the rest of his days backpacking along mountains and traversing terrains.
“I had this experience, it was my first time backpacking ever, I write a little bit about this in the book,” Peters said. “I was with two friends, we had no idea what we were doing, and we got lost within ten minutes. We were completely unprepared. I brought canned food which is just really heavy, and I only brought two liters of water. I was lost, I was worried, I was hungry. But that morning I woke up and I looked across this valley and there was a cloud that was at eye level and it was donutting the mountain, so the mountain was like an island above the cloud. And I just fell in love. A part of me was recognizing we could die, but on the flip side recognizing how gorgeous it was to see a mountain island in the sky. That was sublime for sure. I just got hooked, I was like I want this again.”
Peters began his journey of writing in a Japanese Denny’s around 2008. He would sit for hours in the restaurant and go through multiple journals, writing almost every day.
“This is a book I’ve been working on since 2008,” Peters said. “I wasn’t at where I am now in writing, but I knew I liked writing. I knew I wanted to write. I was in Japan from 2007 to 2010 and I remember the first time I started writing this at a Denny’s in Japan. One of the perks of family restaurants is infinite refills and its self-serve so I would go there and write, especially during off hours, like 2 pm or 8p.m. I would be one of the only people there and sit at a table and be quiet and get all the free coffee I wanted and just sit there and write.”
Most of the essays focus on personal experiences Peters has had with landscapes over the years, with only a few of them being research pieces. One of the essays Peters writes about is an awful experience he had trying to guide a group of people through a desert.
“One of the stories in there, it was a dangerous trip,” Peters said. “We were in the Big Bend desert and the temperature got to be over 100 degrees. I was in charge and the place we were at, the trails were not well marked at all so we got lost constantly. People ran out of water, started hallucinating. It was bad. It wasn’t supposed to be that hot, it was unseasonably hot, and I know it’s a desert, but I went back two weeks later, and it was freezing. It was a five-day trip, we were going to do this loop, but after the first day we were like ‘no, lets chill here.’ Luckily the place we went to had a spring.”
Another essay that is included in his book is a research-based essay on the poet Craig Arnold, who likely died on a trip over a volcano, that begins with Peters recounting a trip he took by himself over a volcano.
“I remember, I was writing in a journal,” Peters said. “It’s a hike and a hitch hike I write about in two different essays. In this essay about Craig Arnold, a poet, who disappeared on a volcano, I write about that and the risks he took by starting to talk about this risk I took. I hiked a volcano, in the dark with only a pocket translator, like an electronic translator. I didn’t have a flashlight, I didn’t have a head lamp, I didn’t have a phone at that time. It was just me and this pocket translator.”
The thing that drew Peters to the forming of his book was the beauty and horror of mountains. The Romanticism period is what Peters wanted to unknowingly emulate.
“If you look at art, the phase of Romanticism is basically when landscape art took off and its very Romantic,” Peters said. “It’s huge mountains and cliffs and often side by side with ancient ruins, sort of signaling that humanity is destined to fade, but nature and everything else will remain in its majesty. And horror. That was always the duality of the Romantics. It’s beauty and horror. It’s beauty in the grotesque and then that was the sublime.”
Peters found himself questioning the history of the faith in mountains, a question he attempts to answer in his book.
“I was just really curious about mapping the development of faithlessness and Romantic mountain obsession and charting that,” Peters said. “Where do you go when the mountains try to break you? That’s why I finished it, because I was interested in that question.”
These collections make up two core ideas, two points Peters is trying to make, one of which is the pilgrimage from adolescent faith to adulthood.
“The point of the book, for me, was sort of investigating that kind of double disillusionment of growing up in a very conservative place. I had a very Romantic experience where faith transferred to mountains.”
Another underlying theme of the book is Peters trying to write against the usual writings of white Americans whom, according to Peters, look at Asia through a colonizer’s lens.
“One of the things I’m trying to write against this sort of history of white dudes going to Asia and writing about it in ways that are very colonialist and orientalist,” Peters said. “I guess they’ve never heard of Edward Said, who’s been around for decades and they don’t even know what that is. I’m trying write against that colonial gaze as much as I can as a white American. I don’t even know if that’s possible, but I’m trying my best.”
Peters began writing these collections of essays over 12 years ago, but it took him nearly ten years to finish this collection.
“I always sort of knew that I would put these essays together,” Peters said. “I just didn’t know exactly what or how, but I wanted to. I started writing it in Japan, put it on hold for several years for my MFA, and MFA thesis, which became my first book. Then when I got to my PhD I started working on it again. This was mostly my dissertation for my PhD.”
Finally seeing the book in his hands was a reality he had been waiting for more than ten years.
“It was cool seeing the book, it was awesome,” Peters said. “I didn’t see it till this week. I took one home last night and then it actually felt real. It was a good feeling.”
Peters’ new book, ‘Mountain Madness: Found and Lost in the Peaks of America and Japan,’ can be found in the Shipyard in Krannert or on Amazon.