Poet Ada Limon talks art, quiet, and sharks

Ada Limon is the author of many books of poetry, including her most recent collection Sharks in the Rivers (which you can read a largish chunk of on Figment here (it’s awesome, do it)). We were lucky enough to have the chance to ask her a few questions, and below are her incredible responses. These answers made me want to take Ada out to tea and discuss Important Poetry and Life Things because she sounds like the type of person you could do that with. Since we’re not that lucky, let’s hear what she has to say.

Are you ever afraid of running out of things to write about?
I suppose I’m not really afraid to run out of things to write about, but that’s because I pretty much always write about the same things: Joy, Fear, Death, Sex, Trying to Figure Out How to Be in the World, Nature, Love.  You know, I think we all write about those things. The thing I fear the most is running out of the time to write. Or rather, running out of the “quiet” to write. But if I work hard enough, and stay crafty and open, hopefully that won’t happen.

What’s your favorite word?
My favorite word right now is, “unfathomable.” I like that. Fathoms. I am also a fan of the word, “acceptance.” Especially when it comes from friends, loved ones, family members, society, etc. I also like the words “happy” and “hour” particularly when they’re combined on a little wooden sign. But the words I focus on most when I am beginning to write are: Begin, Center, Open, and Listen.

Tell us about your favorite spot to write.
Currently I have two favorite spots to write. One is my office in our little home in the countryside of Lexington, Kentucky, and the other is on a mountain in the Sonoma Valley where I also have a small place to live and write. They’re both quiet and peaceful and allow for the mind to turn inward and brighten.

Do you have a lot of poem fragments lying around that never got turned into poems? Care to share one?
I do, I do. And sometimes I eventually use those fragments when I’m ready, but it has to be at the very right spot at the very right time. Which means many fragments may be around for years and often never get used at all. Here’s one: “In this deafening cavern of telephones.”

Your mother draws the artwork for the cover of your books. Can you speak to that process?
Yes. My mother is a wonderful artist and it’s been a real gift getting the opportunity to collaborate with her on the book covers. The process is actually rather involved. She reads the whole finished, edited, manuscript and then she comes up with sketches and some small paintings based on the work and my notes. We work really well together and we go back and forth quite a bit. “Sharks in the Rivers” had at least 10 different drawings/paintings at one point until we both settled on that beautiful blue school of fish. I love it so much and I love the process of working with her as an artist. She’s quite amazing and sometimes it’s good to see your mother as a talented, respected, creative person instead of only as the woman who helps you get by in the world.

Are you scared of sharks?
I’m very scared of sharks. But I also love them. I think they are so beautiful and powerful and intense. I am also scared of bears.

Many of your poems are written from the first person. How is this significant?
I’m very fond of the “I.” But the “I” doesn’t always have to be my own personal “I,” it can be a more universal “I,” an “I” that opens up to other “I’s” and says this is your “I” too.

What do you think epigraphs add to a poem? How do you find yours?
I think epigraphs can add little clues and anchors to the rhythm and spark of the poem. Mine are generally things that have stuck with me or inspired me at one point or another: music, or poems, or anything that worked as a trigger in me. So much of what we do is in response to world and in response to the other wonderful art being made out there, epigraphs are a wonderful way to acknowledge that ongoing conversation.

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