Interview with Ada Limón
April 27, 2007
*This interview was conducted by Jeremy Spencer through email. No content has been changed.
1. When did you start writing poetry and why?
AL: I wrote songs when I was growing up—my first one when I was 8 or 9. I'd sing them to my Labrador in the backyard. I never played an instrument, but I'm pretty sure she was going to give me a recording contract. I always loved listening to poetry, but I didn't know how to go about it at all. Growing up I heard family friends who were poets read, Earl LeClair, and Norman Hindley, and both my stepfather and father wrote. They were working-class, tough male poems. I was always in awe. I think that's why later, I fell in love with Phil Levine's work so completely.
It wasn't until my junior year of college where I took my first poetry class that I really found a way into a poem, and I'm still in it. My friend, writer, Trish Harnetiaux, remembers the moment we were sitting in her small apartment in Seattle and I came upstairs with a poem. We were broke, splitting a tomato with salt, and I said, "I think I want to be a poet." But I'm really in it for the money.
2. You grew up in Sonoma and now live in New York. Which do you prefer- West or East Coast?
AL: Which do you prefer, your right hand or your left? Which could you cut off?
Truthfully I am whole-heartedly a Northern California girl, but I am so madly in love with New York and its people that I find it difficult to leave. I go home to both Sonoma and Seattle at least three times a year to "get healed." Then I come back to New York to expend all my energy until I am so utterly exhausted I am only able to lift a finger to hitchhike back to the golden coast.
3. In a review of your first book lucky wreck, Michael Broder ends the review by describing how he interprets what you are trying to accomplish with your writing as "stripping poetry down to the most essential of images, the poet erects the greatest edifice of meaning, and challenges both poetry and meaning to exist independently of the other..." Do you feel like that is an accurate interpretation of your work?
AL: Broder is being very generous here. I do attempt to write poetry that is uncomplicated and grounded, yet I am very aware of structure, form, and the legacy of poetics. I hesitate to corner myself into saying, "I do this," or
"I do that." I think I am always trying to push my own envelope of what a poem is and how I'd like to communicate to the ten family members and friends that read it.
4. Who are some of your favorite writers? Who has influenced your writing?
AL: Poetry wise there are so many, but to name a few: Walt Whitman, Elizabeth Bishop, Frank O'Hara, Alan Dugan, Phil Levine, Mark Doty, Marie Howe, Sharon Olds, Marie Ponsot, Jennifer L. Knox, Jason Schneiderman, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Major Jackson, Rigoberto Gonzales.
Fiction wise: Charles Baxter, Brady T. Brady, Annie Proulx, Cormac McCarthy, Shirley Hazzard, and Wallace Stegner.
Music wise: Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, Aretha Franklin, John Prine, Dolly Parton, Bill Withers, Okkervil River, The Be Good Tanyas, Alex Cuba Band, The High Strung, Loudon Wainwright, Bonnie Prince Billy, The White Stripes. And finally the "California Glow" contingent: Steely Dan, the Doobie Brothers, Fleetwood Mac, Van Morrison, and Creedence Clearwater. Okay, I might have gone overboard in answering that question. I was enjoying listing.
5. Your poem "This Practice" included in this issue is a poem that makes the reader re-think what their idea about getting old is all about. Instead of seeing memory loss as something beyond a person's control, this poem instead shows that maybe the memories we choose to remember are because of the importance of or the impression made by the experience. How important are your experiences and memories when creating poems?
AL: I have a very good memory. It's odd. My brother once told me, "I'd have no childhood memories if it wasn't for you." But memory is such a delicate thing, it is never the truth, but don't you think our personal histories are so much more interesting than a simple recording of facts? I do. So my memories are very important. I am always struggling with how vivid my past is while trying to live vehemently in the present.
6. What's next for your writing?
AL: Well, I think my writing is kind of hungry. So, we've been talking about lunch.
Maybe some wine.
7. Here it comes: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
AL: Wow. Really? In High School we had to write a letter to our future selves in ten years. I think I wrote: "Dear Mrs. Johnny Depp." But, here's an honest shot. Just don't tell anyone okay? In ten years I'll be living in my hometown of Sonoma, in a small house with a big garden. I'll be writing for a living, living simply, and raising a kid. I'll probably be married or living with an aging rock star or some organic farmer who is single handedly trying to bring back the bee. I'll make my own wine, hang out with the artists at LaHaye Art Center, the great minds of Readers' Books, and I'll hide during the tourist season. I'll visit New York every couple of months and see my darlings and my famous friend, Trish Harnetiaux's plays on Broadway and expend all my energy. I'll write more poetry, some fiction, an album, and a screenplay. I'll finally learn how to play guitar. I'll go to Salmon Creek and build bonfires. I'll be remembering everything in case anyone forgets.
8. Anything else you want to say?
AL: There's lots I have to say (can you tell?), but I think that's enough for one day.