Tag Archives: Ada Limon

Ada Limon: Part 2

I hope you managed to read the interview with Ada Limon:Part 1. Ada speaks about online poetry blogging as being a productive way of getting feedback. As long as you don’t think that every poem has a halo around it, blogging poetry is a constructive way of improving your work, not finalizing it but initiating the process itself. She tells us that reading is linking one poet to another- as you go further and further away from the source, you start to get the feel of language and emotion. She also tells us how focus is crucial- the only way to get out one poem at a time. If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, you must.

Today she talks about her work and the beauty of form in poetry.

How important is understanding form- should an aspiring poet know how to write a villanelle, a sonnet, a ballad, etc. as opposed to just writing in free verse?


I love writing in form. If you’re starting out, it’s important to play around with form. You’ll find that it expands your brain—not constricts it—and gives you an unusual way of discovering your own voice. I have a crown of sonnets in my first book, “Lucky Wreck” called “Spider Web.” Those sonnets started out as a long free verse poem that couldn’t quite find its power in the beginning. Once I broke it into sonnets and let the sound become this cage of tension, it opened.

If you don’t like poems in form, go to the poem and let it speak. It could turn into something you couldn’t have imagined earlier. Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art” is one such poem, a huge inspiration to me. Read it over and over and watch how it changes; it will completely blow your sweet free-verse loving mind and make you tremble.


What goes into a book of poetry- is it planning, inspiration, research or sheer observation? Tell us about the process that went into your latest book “Sharks in the Rivers”.

Sharks in the rivers


I didn’t realize I was writing a book when I began writing “Sharks in the Rivers.” I started with a singular poem, an image, an instinct, and let the poem build into a life. With “Sharks in the Rivers,” I began to see a pattern of river images, of high water, of flooding. At the time, I was dealing with the eminent death of my stepmother, the death of a friend, numerous heartaches, career indecision, and an overall struggle with my own place in the universe. Suddenly all the poems I was writing started speaking to each other. The powerful presence of death was always swimming under even the lightest most joyful poems in the book, and I realized that death was the shark. I wanted the image of a shark, something mysterious and overwhelming,underneath the current of everyday life. Then, the birds came into the book; the birds became that symbol of lightness, of wishes, of spirituality and myths. In that sense, the juxtaposition of water,animals and birds represents the human conflict between the subconscious and the buoyant rapture of our most lifted selves. Once I saw these themes start to take hold of every poem I was writing, the book began to cohere.

I also had two great editors at Milkweed who helped me take the book to its final state. Great editors are miraculous gifts.I feel incredibly connected to “Sharks in the Rivers,” and it’s a book that taught me a lot about who I am as an artist…and who I want to be as a person.

Three books later, where do you think poetry is taking you next? What kind of avenues do you think a poet has in this internet crazy age?

My fourth book of poems is just now starting to come together, and surprisingly, it’s full of love poems. I didn’t truly fall into a lasting love until my mid-thirties and it’s been a subject that, while I’ve tackled it before, I have generally explored it from the standpoint of heartbreak. Writing real love poems is a truly fascinating experience; it’s challenging in a whole new way, to explore the human heart at its most desirous and vulnerable. I feel extremely lucky to be writing love poems now at this point in my life.The new poems in this fourth book  also deal with living as an atheist in the American south. I’m excited to see the manuscript come together; it’s like watching a tree grow large and into its own, in time-lapse photography. I had the dear pleasure of meeting with Philip Levine (my mentor and former professor) recently who said, “The world needs a book of Ada Limón love poems.” I almost died right then and there. I don’t know if the world needs it, but I can tell you I needed it, that’s for certain.

I am also finishing up a novel set in the Sonoma Valley called,“People From Here,” and writing children’s poems. I suppose that’s what happens in this, as you called it, “internet-crazy age.” We have the freedom to explore different forms, formats, and genres that excite us as artists. There’s no longer a sense that if you’re a language poet, you shouldn’t explore a narrative lyric poem, or vice versa. It seems now, that the once rigid and divided poetic schools of thought are softening their edges as the advance of the internet community has moved us toward inclusiveness. It’s a try everything agenand I support that as an artist, but I also support finding what you love and returning to it over and over again. I may write another novel, or a children’s book, or a book of non-fiction, but I will always stay true to poetry.

You always have to, as they say in the South, “dance with the one that brung you.” And poetry has most certainly “brung” me this far.


Thank you Ada for all your time. I really had a lovely time.

Ada Limon will be teaching an online course this winter for only 15 students and you can apply here.


© neelthemuse,2012


Posted by on November 9, 2012 in Interviews with Poets


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Ada Limon: Part 1

The waters have begun to recede. It is an apt time then to give you some very good news.

I had the opportunity to talk with Ada Limon, a contemporary poet who is making a name for herself in a big way. You can check out her website here:

With an M..A in creative writing from NY University and three books of poetry behind her, she is also the recipient of the Chicago Literary Award for Poetry.

Her answers are like a breath of fresh air.

What do you think about the poetry that is being poured out on forums and blogs? Is the poet doing the right thing when s/he publishes online?

I believe online forums, blogs, and Facebook poetry pages that serve as alternative platforms to post poems can help new poets raise the stakes in their own writing. Knowing that a poem will be immediately be read by an audience, even if it’s a small audience, can force a higher level of attention to the work, as well as the very necessary sense of connecting to the outside world.

There is one problem however; there’s what we call “new poem frenzy.” That’s when you write three new poems in three days and think they’re the best work you’ve ever done and send them all immediately to the New Yorker without even proofing them.

My friend, the poet, Dan Bellm says of this, “All new poems come out with little halos on their heads.” And it’s true.

But if you publish them online on a blog, or a Facebook post, and if you don’t mind hearing that a poem isn’t a perfect angel, and if you can be open to advice and editorial feedback, then publishing online can be very helpful; it can even serve as a necessary part of the process. However, you choose to share your poems-you must be brave and open and ready to hold their hands in the dark.

You did your MFA and learnt from greats like Philip Levine. What kind of personal course study would you advise an aspiring poet- what poets must be read today, what art must be viewed and music prescribed?

 Instead of prescribing specific reading, music, or art to anyone, I’d almost rather gently shove a poet in the direction of exploring what she’s already drawn to. Of course there are poems, songs, and visual arts that I find essential to my own work (and to my well being), but that doesn’t mean that everyone will connect with them the same way.

My advice would be to find what you like, the tone, the music, the voice, and then let the work lead you back in time. If you like a contemporary poet like Jennifer L. Knox, then you’ll want to be sure to read James Tate, Lucien Stryk, Wallace Stevens, Alan Dugan, and then you’re going to want to go further and read Sylvia Plath and Muriel Rukeyser, then Whitman, and then you’ll want to go across the pond and read T.S. Elliot and then the Romantics with Lord Byron,Keats, and so forth.


Ada Limon with her mentor, Philip Levine


Let what you love teach you why you love it. In exploring a poet’s influences, you’ll be able to put the work in historical context and let your understanding and enjoyment deepen and expand. Levine was an excellent teacher and he was good and picking out something you were doing in your work and leading you toward a well known poet who had done it better. Learning can be a humbling experience, but exploring poetry that came before you can be liberating, it can actually help you feel even more connected to the art form, to get a sense poetry’s true relevance.

What should young poets do to get noticed? Should they start pitching a manuscript or pitch and pitch to magazines until they get a couple of credits?

Starting out as a poet can be overwhelming, so many questions. Where to start? Who will love me? Will everything be okay? Why am I a poet? Why can’t I be a stockbroker and love stocks and nice pressed blue shirts? Where should I send my beautiful little poems that I worked so hard on? My first suggestion would be to send to the magazines and journals that you love. Look online and read all the poems a magazine has posted, subscribe to a journal, or if you can’t afford a subscription, go to the bookstore and read the poems in journals while you crouch over the magazine section. (Buy them when you can—support the bookstores and the journals that keep our poems in the world.)

Reading those contemporary journals, and finding ones that you love,will not only give you a sense of what types of poems that they’re accepting, but it’ll also give you an idea of what others around you are writing. It will give you a sense of the larger poetic conversation that, as a new poet, you are now entering. Welcome.

Of course, if you have a book that you’re working on, keep working on it. But before you start sending it out, start publishing a few of the strongest poems in the book. If you’re starting now, you’re so lucky.You can do almost all of your submissions online and journals are much better at notifying poets than they used to be. Don’t be scared of rejection.

Rejection is part of the process. It’s like love: you have to get it wrong sometimes in order to appreciate it fully when you get it right. Cry all you want when you get rejected and then get up and write a better poem. When you do get a poem accepted, it’s not a bad idea to send a nice note or email to the editors to thank them. It’s a huge costly effort to put a journal together and it’s often a labor of love, gratitude is in order. But, above all, be patient. If you love poetry and you’re dedicated to the craft, your book will happen. It may take years, but it will happen. In the meantime, focus on writing one poem at a time. Let that be all there is. The moment. The now.

The breath.


More with Ada Limon next week. …..


© neelthemuse,2012

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Posted by on November 2, 2012 in Interviews with Poets


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