In 1975, she had her first published piece, a poem in The Oregonian. Petersen was a Stegner Fellow in 1986-1987. She twice has won Carloyn Kizer Poetry Awards, and also was the recipient of the Stewart Holbrook Award, given for contributions to Oregon literature. In 2002, The Wild Awake—her first full-length collection of poems—was published by Confluence Press. Two years later, she published Blood-Silk, a collection of poems about Turkey. A Bride of Narrow Escape was published in 2006, and Kindle was published in 2008. Petersen was appointed as Oregon's Poet Laureate in 2010, the sixth in state history, replacing Lawson Inada.The Voluptuary was published in 2010, and Understory was published in 2013. She was given a second term as poet laureate in 2012, with her term then ending in April 2014.