June 16, 2020
Artist Member Spotlight: Pegi Deitz Shea
Pegi Deitz Shea is the first Poet Laureate of the Town of Vernon. She has been an active part of the Arts Center East community as an Artist Member and coordinating the Poetry Rocks! monthly poetry reading series. Normally our Artist Member Spotlights are compiled from interview questions posed to the Artist Members. In this case, it seemed best to have Pegi write about herself.
I came to photography through poetry, though both were in my separate bloodlines. There has been an author in every generation of my mother’s family; and there’s been a photographer in my father’s generations dating back to the Civil War. (It’s very weird to see modern Deitz features in the family portraits from 150 years ago!)
Photography and poetry actually have a lot in common: both demand powerful skills of observation, the will to seek material and experiment, and the perseverance to work on the raw images to produce the art. And, of course, there’s always luck. But always being equipped with a camera and/or a notebook can create that luck. Since I was a small child, I was always curious and observant, willing to hunt for mental stimulation, and to create something from what I found. I began writing at the age of eight and, being the only girl with four brothers, I was always seeking liberty and solitude.
While I was interested in photography, my family didn’t have extra money for the fees our Catholic high school required for courses. So, my training in photography came in college in the form of videography. My dream was to write and/or produce for Sesame Street. So, I double-majored in English and Mass Communications at Rutgers, taking production courses and working for the college TV station. I eventually became sports director, and I interned for a cable company that covered Princeton sports. It was fast hands-on training! Shooting hockey games was my favorite assignment. On the writing side, I worked closely with the poet Alicia Suskin Ostriker, helped edit the college literary magazine, met in writers’ critique groups, and attended and performed in a lot of poetry readings. My own poems began being published in literary magazines. For graduation, my future husband gave me my first 35mm camera and my parents gave me a round-trip flight to Europe and a two-month Eurail pass. During that first “trip of a lifetime,” my two skills merged. Since then, travels (even just day trips) always inspire both pictures and words.
After college, I worked for the Asbury Park Press and contributed a few editorial photographs in addition to my daily newspaper articles. When I got a job in New York with the company that shot and edited Sesame Street among other shows, I was so excited to begin fulfilling my dream. But I ended up doing PR and advertising, contributing both pictures and articles. (I also took freelance jobs that required both.) Then my husband got a tenure-track job teaching English at UCONN, and we moved to Connecticut. I joined a writers’ critique group that had poets and children’s book authors, and I realized that I could fulfill my dream of writing for children after all.
The topics I’ve chosen for my writing for both adults and children harken back to my childhood interest in issues. Growing up with all brothers, I experienced inequity in gender. My Catholic grammar school turned us students into activists against poverty, racial discrimination, and war. I was born in 1960, so my formative years took place during the assassinations, the Vietnam War, Women’s Liberation, Watergate, etc.
My children’s book career, teaching, and family-raising occupied me for a good 20 years. While I “took pictures” and wrote poetry for adults, I didn’t have time to really work on them. It was around 2014 that I decided to get back to work on both. My first digital camera and immersion in the Connecticut poetry scene really ignited my creativity, and I began combining photos and poems. I was asked to submit a picture and poem combo to a show in Canton in 2016, which was followed by a request to do a two-person show in Hartford with artist and poet Margaret Plaganis. I honestly didn’t know if my photography was good enough to exhibit until she began encouraging me to enter juried shows, and my work was being accepted. I’ve since had several solo shows in Hartford-area venues, combining my poetry and photography, and have had photos accepted into juried shows at Arts Center East. I currently have two photographs in the juried online Sanctuary exhibit at the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, and am looking to submit more widely. My poetry is being published again nationally in print anthologies and journals, as well as online literary magazines.
Pegi’s most recent initiative is a series titled, “Poetry Rocks Black Voices.” She regularly showcases diverse voices in Poetry Rocks! and wants to continue to use her platform as Vernon Poet Laureate to do so. Each week on Facebook, Pegi is sharing snippets of poetry written by Black poets, along with some biographical information. You can find the poems in their entirety on the Rockville Public Library Poetry Page along with more information about the poets and their work.