Audio

Suzi F. Garcia in Conversation with Ada Limón

February 8, 2022

AUDIO TRANSCRIPT

The Poetry Magazine Podcast: Suzi F. Garcia in Conversation with Ada Limón

(MUSIC PLAYING)

Ada Limón:

(READS EXCERPT FROM “Foaling Season”)

One foal is a biter, and you must watch
him as he bares his teeth and goes
for the soft spot. He’s brilliant

Suzi F. Garcia: Welcome to the Poetry Magazine Podcast. I’m guest editor, Suzi F. Garcia. Today, I’m speaking with one of my literary sheroes, Ada Limón. Her poems floor me. In her new book, The Hurting Kind, she writes, “to be made whole, not by being witness, but by being witnessed.” We spoke about being seen and how to write about the hardest moments of our lives without making trauma porn. As a reader, it seems to me like Ada never shies away from a topic. In her last book, The Caring, she describes tending to aging parents and struggling with infertility. In “Foaling Season,” one of the poems you’ll hear today, Ada returns to the subject of motherhood. She’s observing a hillside of mares and foals and she writes, “I will never be a mother./That’s all. That’s the whole thought.” I asked her, what is it like to write so vulnerably? That’s where the conversation begins.

Ada Limón: I’m very interested in what it is to tell the whole story, sort of the mess. And the part that maybe we leave out. And I’m also interested in what it is to honor grief in all its forms, and find some beauty in grief. One of the things that always strikes me as problematic with our culture, especially within the United States, is our insistence on moving past things, our insistence on healing fast. I mean, I think even during the pandemic, we have this idea that like, oh, and now we’re just going to go on Zoom, and it’s going to be fine, and this is going to happen, and don’t worry about it, and everything, you know?

Suzi F. Garcia: Mm-hmm.

Ada Limón: So often, we’re just sort of meant to wound and recover. And it’s just like, we just want to see people in recovery. We love the triumph of the human spirit, right? So we just want to see like, “Oh, and now! The triumph of the human spirit.”

Suzi F. Garcia: (LAUGHS)

Ada Limón: “They have overcome.” But also, trying in some ways to avoid the over dramatizing. We talk about this sometimes, that sort of trauma porn that we can get into as poets, as writers, as artists in general. Which is like, “Here is all this like, here are my wounds, and this will somehow make you love my work or me.” And I love dark poems, as you know. And I love poems that are about the hard, big-ticket topics of our lives. But I don’t love feeling manipulated into a certain feeling.

Suzi F. Garcia: Mm-hmm.

Ada Limón: And so, I think the way that I’m trying to at least work in this new book, is a way of also putting things in context. You can write about grief, and the next minute write about flowers, and that those two things are together. And so I think it’s important to me to, yes, name the thing, but then also be willing to move beyond it in a way that doesn’t feel like pouring salt over and over into the same wound, until I’m somehow incapacitated.

Suzi F. Garcia: Yeah, or stitching it up and saying, “Okay, it’s over.”

Ada Limón: Exactly, either way. I’m trying to find that equanimity in the work, and in my life.

Suzi F. Garcia: I feel like there’s a way in which The Hurting Kind is, is about how sometimes pain is not temporary, but ever present, yet still fleeting.

Ada Limón: Mm-hmm.

Suzi F. Garcia: I think the opening poem you start, I can’t remember exactly. But I remember I wrote down, “Joy, barbed wire, joy.” (LAUGHS)

Ada Limón: Yeah.

Suzi F. Garcia: And I feel like that’s kind of how the poems in this book are kind of speaking to me. They’re saying that yes, pain is temporary, but that doesn’t mean it’s healed. That means it’s coming back. And it might find you at unexpected moments of joy. Pain might resurface, but it’s, you spend time and you witness your own pain in many of these poems, and I think that’s as large as asking others to witness your pain.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

Ada Limón:

(READS EXCERPT)

Foaling Season

1

In the dew-saturated foot-high blades
            of grass, we stand amongst a sea

of foals, mare and foal, mare and foal,
            all over the soft hillside there are twos,

small duos ringing harmoniously in the cold,
            swallows diving in and out, their fabled

forked tail where the story says the fireball
            hit it as it flew to bring fire to humanity.

Our friend the Irishman drives us in the Gator
            to sit amongst them. Everywhere doubles

of horses still leaning on each other, still nuzzling
            and curious with each new image.

Ada Limón: One of the things I’m very interested in, and maybe surrendering to as I age, is the idea of simultaneity. And the idea that everything is happening at once. And I think that as writers, maybe we feel that a little bit more, where it feels like the past is moving through us at all times. And the future is present. And the now is present. And all those worlds are there. And it doesn’t take us, if we’re in our real receptive mode to writing, it doesn’t take us a lot to get there.

Suzi F. Garcia:  Mm-hmm.

Ada Limón: You know, I remember someone recently asking me about how I went from a memory into the present so effortlessly in some of my work. And I started laughing. And I said, “Oh, because I don’t believe in time.”

Suzi F. Garcia: (LAUGHS)

Ada Limón: (LAUGHS) And I’d never said that out loud. But I was very, I was just very honest. I was like, “Yeah, I just don’t think time exists.” And as I was saying it, I was like, no, this is true. I think that there’s a level in which I feel like, yeah, it’s all happening all the time, all of it. And once I kind of gave in to that, I feel like I’m living my life a little differently. And I think my work is doing different things as well.

Suzi F. Garcia: That makes me think about how, if we contain all of our selves in one self, that maybe, sometimes our gut instinct, it might be our future selves in conversation with ourselves, as well as our past selves.

Ada Limón: And it might be our past self, trying to protect ourselves too.

Suzi F. Garcia: Right.

Ada Limón: Or, you know, I think, I think that sort of idea of instinct and intuition also comes from that idea of time being very fluid. That, you know, tomorrow and fifteen years ago, are not that far apart.

(READS EXCERPT)

(FADES IN)

… with each new image.

2

Two female horses, retired mares, separated
            by a sliding barn door, nose each other.

Neither of them will get pregnant again,
            their job is to just be a horse. Sometimes,

though, they cling to one another, find a friend
            and will whine all night for the friend

to be released. Through the gate, the noses
            touch, and you can almost hear—

Are you okay? Are you okay?

3

I will never be a mother.

That’s all. That’s the whole thought.

I could say it returns to me, watching the horses.

Which is true.

But also I could say that it came to me

as the swallows circled us over and over,

something about that myth of their tail,

how generosity is punished by the gods.

But isn’t that going too far? I saw a mare

with her foal, and then many mares

with many foals, and I thought, simply:

I will never be a mother.

4

One foal is a biter, and you must watch
him as he bares his teeth and goes
for the soft spot. He’s brilliant, leggy,
and comes right at me, as if directed
by some greater gravity, and I stand
firm, and put my hand out first, rub
the long white marking on his forehead,
silence his need for biting with affection.
I love his selfishness, our selfishness,
the two of us testing each other, swallows
all around us. Every now and then, his
teeth come at me once again; he wants
to teach me something, wants to get me
where it hurts.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

Suzi F. Garcia: One of the lines that always stands out to me is about the foal going right for the soft spot. And I was like yeah, like your poems. (LAUGHS)

Ada Limón: Mm.

Suzi F. Garcia: They go right for the soft spot. They always get me right there.

Ada Limón: Me too.

Suzi F. Garcia: I like that. I like that your own soft spot is revealed. I want to stay on the hillside of this poem, just forever. I don’t want its presence to end. And I kind of think that the world isn’t the hillside, it’s you tracing your thoughts and feelings for us. Can you tell me, did you always observe this precisely? Even as a child, were you observing?

Ada Limón: Yes, I think that I have been always a watcher. Which is interesting, because I think we think of poets as talkers, right? We think of poets as inserting themselves into the world, but I think truly, poets are listeners, and watchers, and observers. And then we sort of have to turn on, find our little extrovert self, somewhere in there, and dig them out, to—

Suzi F. Garcia: (LAUGHS)

Ada Limón: to, you know, to read poems and to discuss poems and to be in front of people and to be in community. But I think for the most part, I know, myself, I have always been an observer, a watcher. And always trying to not necessarily attach meaning, but aware that every image is connected. And I also love the way the mind works. I am fascinated by it. I think there are some people who are very frustrated with how the mind works. And I have definitely lived many moments of my life frustrated with my own brain for certain. But, at the same time, I think poetry has given me a place to make room for those connections, so that I find that the image and then pulling it back into what that image does to me, and actually naming that thing, and connecting it, versus trying to struggle with like, oh, let’s quiet the mind. Right? There’s a, there’s a time and a place for quieting the mind for sure. But I think I’m very interested in how the brain and synapses are working constantly to make those connections and what that does. And so, on many levels, this poem was, and is, a true experience. I was out in the field, I did see those foals and mares and those duos. And what is it to be a child for a woman in a field of only mothers and babies, right? Of only foals and mares and watching those relationships and just thinking, “Oh, I won’t have that.” And it wasn’t necessarily a, “Oh, I feel sorry for myself,” or, you know, but just the acknowledgment of that, like, “Oh, that will not happen for me.” And in some ways, it gave a deeper beauty to that witnessing of those pairings. And in some ways it was, it hurt.

Suzi F. Garcia: That it can be both at the same time. Open the door and at the same time feel a little uninvited.

Ada Limón: Yeah.

Suzi F. Garcia: When you were growing up, what were your early years like? Did you have a connection to these kind of rural landscapes that pepper your poetry currently?

Ada Limón: Yeah. I grew up in Glen Ellen in Sonoma, California. I was very in love with the trees and birds and animals. And it also felt like the thing that you do. And I know that if you’re in, grow up in an urban landscape, that’s the thing you do, too, right? You have a different kind of relationship with the world around you. And mine was one of watching closely, observing the things that came up in the garden, the weeds that came up in between the walkway, all of those things. And then the creek across the street from my house. My mother was and is an artist, is a painter. So I think that I also learned that appreciation of watching, witnessing in a way that wasn’t always about interpreting, but just trying to pay homage to the image.

Suzi F. Garcia: So, less about translating the image onto the page and more about kind of honoring the experience of witnessing the image.

Ada Limón: I love the idea of transformation. And I think that, the, all the poems I love have some element of transformation. But I also feel a little wary of it sometimes, because I want that transformation to be true, and not to be a forced epiphany. (LAUGHS) Which sometimes I feel like even I, you know, can do. It’s like, after twenty-five years of writing, I still can be like, oh, you know, this would be good if I did this, and—

Suzi F. Garcia: Right.

Ada Limón: And also asking myself, but is that real? Like, is that true? And I think even in the poem, I just read, “The Foaling Season,” there’s a moment where it’s like, “That’s it,” like that’s, you know, it’s also the swallows, it’s also this, it’s just saying, “Yeah, I am thinking right now, I will never be a mother.” But it’s not connected to all the other things that maybe life demands I connect it to. If I’m really true, it’s just like, yeah, and I’m gonna go home and have breakfast, you know? So I think there’s that idea of, yes, witnessing the image, watching the image. And also being very careful with how I feel it transcend or transform into something else, and not trying to maybe force that epiphany or force that connection in a way that maybe feels false later on.

Suzi F. Garcia: Is that difficult? Is it easier to say, I want to put a bow on this and say, “And then I was happy again! Like, I’m happy now?”

Ada Limón: Oh, my gosh. Suzi, I wish I could do that all the time.

Suzi F. Garcia: (LAUGHS)

Ada Limón: I mean, I know what would satisfy us, right? I mean, I am, I am a creature who desires satisfaction. And so, I know that there’s this part of me that would love to end every poem on like, you know, and then the blooming and then the breaking out, and then, you know, like this, this incredible, like, and then the healing—

Suzi F. Garcia: (LAUGHS) Not the blooming!

Ada Limón: I would love that. That would be amazing. But is that real? Like, no, it’s real some days. Some days, you know, like, oooo, on a good Saturday morning.

Suzi F. Garcia: Yeah.

Ada Limón: Triumphant, you know, and then, you know, other days, it’s, oh, yes, this, and this too, and this too. And it’s much more about acceptance, and the quiet continuing, as much as I want ta-da factors all the time. (LAUGHS)

Suzi F. Garcia: Forever, ta-da factors, but I think that, the ta-da factors are small and continual, and maybe don’t need to change but lead to those moments. And maybe the moments are enough.

Ada Limón: Yeah, I love the way that you put that. I think that’s very true. I think, I mean, we talked about that, right, in, if you’ve done meditation, or if you’ve done any kind of mindfulness training, any of that stuff, there’s, it seems to be like, okay, what is it to be in the present moment? And like, you just mention the present moment to me, and I’m like, “Ahhh! I want to get out of it!” (LAUGHS)

Suzi F. Garcia: (LAUGHS)

Ada Limón: You know? What’s next? What’s next? So I think that, you know, my life has been, you know, spent trying to do that deep work, doing mindfulness every day, doing meditation every day. And in that sort of, you know, fifteen-year practice now, it does feel like there is a level in which, okay, I can be in the present moment. But in doing so, there is that push against storytelling, and a push against narrative in some ways, because if you really are making room for all things, it’s not going from A to C. It’s like I said, it’s a simultaneity, it’s all wrapped up together. And that is a different kind of poem, as well as different kind of life.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

Ada Limón:

(READS POEM)

The First Lesson

She took the hawk wing
and spread it

slightly from the shoulder
down, from the bend

of the wing to the lesser
coverts. from the primary coverts

to the tertials, to the carpal edge.
The bird was dead

to begin with, found
splayed over the white

line of Arnold Drive. She was not
scared of death, she took

the bird in like a stray
thing that needed warmth

and water. She pulled it apart
to see how it worked.

My mother nailed the wing
to her studio wall.

She told me not to be
scared. I watched

and learned to watch
closely the world.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

Suzi F. Garcia: What was it like growing up with somebody who was a visual artist? And what made you turn to words? Do you do some visual art yourself?

Ada Limón: No, I’m terrible at visual art. (LAUGHS) But I think it’s like growing up with someone who stares a lot. You know, you look over and you’re like, “What are you doing?” And she’s sort of staring at a corner and she’s like, “Look how that light moves off that tree.” And then goes over there in that one line. You know? And that sort of acceptance of what it is to perceive the world in sort of a non-rushed fashion, and non sort of what’s next, what can it do for me, where do I fit in kind of thing, but instead being like, “Oh, look at that.” So there was a lot of that. In fact, it’s very funny because she’ll also stare at me if she hasn’t seen me in a while and you can see—I’m like, “Mom—” and she’s like, “No, I’m just looking, your one eyebrow—” (LAUGHS) And I’m like, “Mom, no!” (LAUGHS)

Suzi F. Garcia: (LAUGHS) You’re like, I don’t want to be perceived this much.

Ada Limón: You know, I feel very lucky and grateful for that opportunity to have witnessed an artist in that way, a painter in that way. But also grown up with everyone in her studio, you know, that worked, there was a, you know, a ceramicist, a woman who did paintings and a sculptor, and all of these people. And like, watching people make things, and value the making, and value art was, I think, incredibly essential to me having that freedom to choose art, and not feeling ashamed by it. And that’s something that I feel I will always be forever, sort of in awe of, because I know so many people who would be like, “How could you have ever chosen that?” And I think I always knew it was an option

(READING OF POEM FADES IN)

              She was not
scared of death, she took
the bird in like a stray

thing that needed warmth
and water. She pulled it apart

(FADES OUT)

I think that kind of curiosity and fascination has fueled my sort of sensibility when it comes to writing poems, in that sense that instead of being always in grief, or in fear, what is it to be curious about those things? To learn that instead of being scared of them, or running away from them, and being like, “Oh, it’s a dead animal.” What is it to be like, “Oh, let’s, let’s look at it. Let’s see how this works. Let’s honor it in this way.” I think this whole book, The Hurting Kind, is, is a book of honoring.

Suzi F. Garcia: That makes sense to me. Because I think I was mistakenly thinking that my first lesson you were discussing observation, when in reality, you were discussing curiosity, you were discussing that it’s okay to ask questions and get your hands a little dirty.

Ada Limón: Mm-hmm.

Suzi F. Garcia: And I also think it’s funny, because, you know, there were so many mothers that would be like, “Please don’t touch dead birds. They may have diseases.”

Ada Limón: (LAUGHS)

Suzi F. Garcia: (LAUGHS) Like, isn’t that what we hear? Like, don’t touch live birds. We are told not to touch, and your first lesson was to engage in your curiosity, not to run away from it.

Ada Limón: Not only engage, but dissect, to, like, you know, pull it apart, to be fascinated. I mean, for me, it was definitely unique to my life. There wasn’t other friends that were having those similar experiences.

Suzi F. Garcia: I was not. (LAUGHS) I did watch my dad take apart an air conditioner once and that was not nearly as interesting. (LAUGHS)

Ada Limón: (LAUGHS)

(MUSIC PLAYING)

Suzi F. Garcia: I didn’t have a lot of access to Latinidad growing up. And now sometimes I struggle to feel like my poems are, like, Latinx enough. And there are a lot of jokes about like, what Latinx poems are. Are they magical realism? Are they abuelas? Are they mangoes? (LAUGHS) Your poems seem to be just so purely you. They resist tropes without any resistance. Can you talk a little bit about writing while Latinx and not falling into that kind of escape where you’re like, “I guess I have to write a mango poem.” (LAUGHS)

Ada Limón: I really love the way you put that which was like, resisting the tropes without resisting. And I feel like, as much as I am a people pleaser in my life, I am not in my poems. And I think that that is really something I want to deeply hold on to, which is, as you know, I feel like so often, as Latinx writers, we have these two sort of pulls. And one is like, the sort of prevalent literati asking for you to be more Latinx. Like, “Oh, we’d like to publish you, but you didn’t mention your abuelita. You didn’t mention arroz con pollo. You didn’t mention X, Y and Z.” And then we have from the Latinx community, like, “Oh, how come you’re not writing about the border crisis? And you’re writing about heartbreak or whatever.” And so it does happen sometimes twofold, from both communities. To be honest, I feel like I’m very interested in what it is to be true to the self in that complex way, right? That I don’t necessarily identify with the white community. I’m on the outside of that community. And yet, as a white-passing Latinx, I want to be clear, that, you know, in terms of my experience in the world, you know, English speaking etcetera, that there is a different kind of—a world that I have access to, that feels like if I’m not, if I’m not paying tribute to that and not being honest with that, then it feels like it’s almost giving into a sort of stereotype. And so, for me, if I can offer anything, I want everyone who’s coming up as a writer now to give themselves permission to write about whatever they want to write about.

Suzi F. Garcia: Mm-hmm.

Ada Limón: And to not necessarily have to do the poem that’s being asked of them by any community. Now, for me, my big thing that I want to do in my work is to honor my ancestors. And I think in The Hurting Kind, that gets done. And to talk about my grandfather. And one of the big reasons I write is because I know how much he was an artist. But as someone who crossed the border, lived in a chicken coop, and was subjected to the prejudice and violence that goes along with being a Mexican in California, I feel like it’s my duty sometimes to sing not just about him, but sing for him, so that he sometimes is on the page and gets that opportunity to come out of me. And I think that that’s a really big part of what I do. But that’s authentic to myself. It’s not like, “Oh, I need to do this for a community.” And I think if I did that, I would be so scared. I would also feel like I would get it wrong. As much as I feel part of the Latinx community, I also feel like, poems are singular, and they’re idiosyncratic. And they only come from that one voice underneath the voice that’s inside of a singular person. I think I always want to make true, stay true to that voice as much as I can, and hopefully get permission to also stay true to their voice, so that they’re not always trying to perform identity. Because some people want that of us. I know it’s been asked of me.

Suzi F. Garcia: Mm-hmm.

Ada Limón: And every time it’s asked of me, there’s a certain part of me that feels like I get all elbows, you know? Fists up, where I’m like, “You want me to do something, and you want me to do it because it fits your idea.” I struggle with that. And I think that I can talk about that, right? Like in my poem, “The Contract Says: We’d Like the Conversation to Be Bilingual,” like that is in a direct response to that kind of feeling of like, don’t try to force me into something. And like I said, I feel like I’m a pleaser in real life. And then, in my art form, I’m just like, all rebel. Like, I’m like, “No, I will do only what I want to do.” That is one of the reasons I think that I hopefully can do an honoring to my Latinx community. And in the same way, a permission-granting to my Latinx community to write whatever, whatever the hell they want to write.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(READS POEM)

The Contract Says: We’d Like the Conversation to Be Bilingual

When you come, bring your brown-
ness so we can be sure to please

the funders. Will you check this
box; we’re applying for a grant.

Do you have any poems that speak
to troubled teens? Bilingual is best.

Would you like to come to dinner
with the patrons and sip Patrón?

Will you tell us the stories that make
us uncomfortable, but not complicit?

Don’t read the one where you
are just like us. Born to a green house,

garden, don’t tell us how you picked
tomatoes and ate them in the dirt

watching vultures pick apart another
bird’s bones in the road. Tell us the one

about your father stealing hubcaps
after a colleague said that’s what his

kind did. Tell us how he came
to the meeting wearing a poncho

and tried to sell the man his hubcaps
back. Don’t mention your father

was a teacher, spoke English, loved
making beer, loved baseball, tell us

again about the poncho, the hubcaps,
how he stole them, how he did the thing

he was trying to prove he didn’t do.

Suzi F. Garcia: When I was speaking to Rachel, the podcast producer, about why I wanted you to be on the podcast, something that I said was, “Ada Limón has the life that I dream of.” (LAUGHS) I said, “She lives in the country. She’s very connected to herself and to poetry.” But you also spent a lot of time in New York. You lived in New York almost as long as you’ve lived in the country. You once said that it allowed you to write more personally, to be more open. Do you still find that true?

Ada Limón: Yeah, I do find that true, which I think is interesting, because … I loved my time in New York. I love New York City. But I do think there’s a little pressure to identify yourself, who you are, oh, you’re a member of this group of writers or you’re a member, you know, you’re, whoever your friends are, you’re then associated with those kinds of poems. Even if you don’t write poems like your friends write poems, you know? It feels like there’s certain kind of factions, no matter how hard you try to resist that. I for one really believe in poetry being about possibilities. You know, I remember being at NYU and the pressure to say, oh, you’re a narrative poet or you’re a lyric poet, or you’re a language poet, or you know, and I would just, I just didn’t like it. I remember I hated it then, I thought, “I don’t want to be any of those things, I want to be all those things.” And I still do. And I still feel like, I didn’t sign up to poetry for anything limited, I want all the options. I, you know, if I want to write a concrete poem in the shape of a tree tomorrow, I would like to do that. And if I want to write a villanelle, I would like to do that. If I want to write an iambic pentameter, I would like to do that. And whatever, but whatever feels right and true and good for me in the moment that’s pushing me to the edge of a little bit of what feels maybe a little scary, what feels maybe a little risky, but for me, personally, not in a way of trying to prove myself to anyone. And I think the quietude and safety and security that living in a city that’s smaller and surrounded by green spaces and in tune with nature has given me has allowed for that kind of permission.

Suzi F. Garcia: I will say I was, I was with you until you said iambic pentameter.

Ada Limón: (LAUGHS)

Suzi F. Garcia: I mean, God bless. Better you than me. (LAUGHS)

Ada Limón: Suzi, I’ve never, I’ve never done it. I just want you to know I’ve never done it.

Suzi F. Garcia: That was like the one—in my Shakespeare class, I cried when they made us like, measure out the meter for—I was like, “I don’t know.” (LAUGHS) It really makes you question your—

Ada Limón: Oh.

Suzi F. Garcia: Somebody who already has problems speaking, I was like, “Is it? …” I was like, “Now I don’t know how to talk.” (LAUGHS)

Ada Limón: Yeah. I remember that my problem with iambic pentameter, and scansion in general, was that, if you gave me the rhythm, I would just like, that would, I would just mimic it forever.

Suzi F. Garcia: Right.

Ada Limón: Right? It’s kind of the same thing, my same thing with rhyming. Like, I love to rhyme. But I can’t start it, because I’ll just rhyme forever. Like, I’ll never stop rhyming.

Suzi F. Garcia: (LAUGHS)

Ada Limón: You know, it’ll be like a 500-page book of poems that are just rhyming poems. Like, I can’t—

Suzi F. Garcia: That’s number eight.

Ada Limón: Yeah, exactly! So it’s just, you know, these things are just gonna happen. So I feel like, yeah, I’m with you. I am a mimic. And so sometimes, even with scansion, which I did have a lot of difficulty hearing, because I’d be like, “I don’t say that that way.” (LAUGHS)

Suzi F. Garcia: (LAUGHS)

Ada Limón: I was like, “That’s not how I say that word at all!” (LAUGHS)

Suzi F. Garcia: You’re like, “Oh, no.” (LAUGHS)

Ada Limón: Yeah! Yeah. I remember everyone being like, “No, that’s how it’s said.” I was like, “That is not where I put the emphasis.” Yeah. So even with scansion, I just, once I figured it out, I was like, oh, I think I just, you know, I will do this sort of singsongy rhythm forever. So yeah, I do, I had that same experience with iambic pentameter. Especially studying Shakespeare.

Suzi F. Garcia: Yeah, every time.

Ada Limón: That Shakespeare, man. (LAUGHS)

Suzi F. Garcia: (LAUGHS) He just sneaks up on us. Can you just briefly, maybe, give us a picture of a regular day of your life in the country?

Ada Limón: Yeah. So, you know, as you know, one of the things that I have sort of done with my life, or at least try to carve out in my life is to not be in the academic world. So I don’t have a full-time brick-and-mortar teaching position. Which has, I think, been very healthy for me. I think it’s wonderful for a lot of people. But I have very much loved my freedom outside of that world. And so, for me, it’s like I, you know, I get up in the morning, I walk the dog, and then I do my whatever exercise it is, whether it’s yoga or dancing, and then I do meditation. And then I usually write. I’m working on some prose right now, some essays. And then I also work on The Slowdown episodes. They’re daily. So they’re, you know, it’s a lot. And then I spend a lot of time reading. Between The Slowdown and also just my own voracious appetite for poetry in general, I will read, you know, many books a day sometimes. And then sort of when I’m writing, when I’m actually writing poetry, that will be a whole part of the day. But I, right now, I’m taking a little break. I think sometimes when I’m releasing a new book into the world, and I’ve finished it, I feel like it’s good for me to just take a little break. So I’m working on some prose, and doing that. I’m home. And then usually I’ll have something, you know, like an interview or, you know, a class visit or something like that virtually that I’ll do. And then, you know, the rest of the day is again, reading and writing. So it’s really, really freakin’ lucky. I’ll just say that. I feel, I feel like it’s kind of everything I’ve ever wanted, was to be like, yeah, I just kind of have this day that’s just this. And I think not having an incredibly expensive mortgage, because I live in Kentucky is very useful. (LAUGHS)

Suzi F. Garcia: (LAUGHS)

Ada Limón: So that’s very helpful. But I also feel like there’s just sort of that carving out that I’ve done where I’m like, oh, this is, this is where I want to be. And fingers crossed, I can keep it going for as long as I can.

Suzi F. Garcia: I like what you were saying about taking a break, too, because I think that that’s something I find really interesting about your work is that you are a very prolific writer, but that each of your books feel different. You know what I mean? Like, it’s easy to, if you’re a prolific writer, get into a tone, or a mood, or—like, I’m not a prolific writer, I take forever to write. But, taking those breaks, you’re so prolific, it’s interesting to me that you can even take breaks. (LAUGHING)

Ada Limón: Yeah.

Suzi F. Garcia: (LAUGHING) In some ways, I’m like, you get so much out there!

Ada Limón: Yeah. But I will, I’ll take, you know, I will, I’ll not write a poem for three to six months sometimes.

Suzi F. Garcia: That makes me feel so much better. I’ve gotta be honest.

Ada Limón: And it feels really important to do. Because I do think there’s times where we need to receive and listen and process, and not always try to translate it into our vision. And I think sometimes after I’ve finished a book, I have to sit back and go, okay, like, you were really in tune and doing that. And now, let’s be, just be, for a little while.

Suzi F. Garcia: Mm-hmm.

Ada Limón: And as you know, you know, prose takes a different part of the brain. So it feels a little like that, to me, doesn’t feel the same. I think taking a break is really important. I always laugh with students who say, you know, “What do you do about writer’s block?” And I say, “Oh, I just don’t write.” (LAUGHS) I like, I just believe it, and I trust it. And then I don’t write things, because my body doesn’t want me to write. You know, if you have a deadline, you can’t tell students that, who are trying to write a poem a week or whatever. But, but I do think that oftentimes what I need to do is to sit and to read and to receive and to watch and to just be a body moving in the world, and not necessarily be someone who is trying to make sense of anything.

Suzi F. Garcia: Yeah. Well, you are the poet laureate of naps.

Ada Limón: You know I am!

Suzi F. Garcia: (LAUGHING) So, I feel like that translates.

Ada Limón: I am so pro nap. As you know, at one point, Jericho Brown, lovely human being, was talking about the burpee challenge for AWP. And I started the nap challenge for AWP, which was, everyone reporting on the naps they could get during the writer’s conference. Because, you know, and I believe in it, I feel like sometimes it’s just ttwenty minutes, but to lie down and to just quiet the mind. You know, I am a big believer in napping as part of my creative process. (LAUGHING)

(MUSIC PLAYING)

Suzi F. Garcia: That’s the best. I’m going to take a nap after this. I will always associate you with joy. We first met at CantoMundo. And you did a packet on joy poems and encouraged us to start thinking about not just our pain, but what keeps us going. I think you were asking us to kind of resist what you were saying earlier, the trauma porn, and to engage in writing as a joyful act. What has been bringing you joy lately?

Ada Limón: Yeah. I just want to also acknowledge what you just said, because it made me, almost moved me to tears when you said, “I will always associate you with joy,” because I feel so bound to that, because I really do feel like it’s important that even the act of writing is like this act of resilience and hope. And so often, we think of it as, you know, there’s, it’s like plummeting the depths of the bottom of our souls. And it’s that too, but just the fact that we get to do it, and how many of our ancestors did not get to do this. I just, I can’t, you know, say enough how important it is to hold onto that kind of appreciation for just getting to write a word on a page and call it yours. It just, it can, it can literally move me to tears. And so that still brings me joy. Like it, I mean, the most fun I have is finishing a poem, is making a poem. And also, I am very conscious about sitting down and being like, “Oh, I get to do this today. This is really awesome.” I worked for many, many years in New York where I was up at 5:30 in the morning and back at my home at 10 at night. So I think there is just a lot of joy in just the making. My dog always will bring me joy, because she is just the good-hearted beast that she is, my little ten-year-old pug, Lily Bean, who is not in here while I’m recording because she snores so loudly. She would disrupt the podcast. (LAUGHS) My cat brings me joy. She’s like 100 years old and still going strong. And of course my husband, who is downstairs now. And we were just having this discussion about, you know, whatever the next few years brings in terms of opening up and reopening, and what the world will look like, that we have been so lucky to have each other in this sort of partnership. That we like each other, that we love each other, that we make each other laugh. And as you know, that, you know, that good partnership is hard to come by. And when you find it, it’s like, wow, this feels really awesome that you can be my best friend and also my lover and, you know, also the person I can confide in and share my poems with. And then of course, nature. I think, you know, whenever I’m feeling like either giving up or giving in, surrendering to the darker voices, I feed the birds. And in doing so, like I just, there are times where I just feed them and I sit and watch and I’m like, “Oh, I’m gonna be okay.” And I don’t know what it is, but it’s just watching them live. That sort of sense of ongoingness is really important to me right now, as well as just making, making the things, making the things.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

Suzi F. Garcia: Ada Limón is the author of six books of poetry, including The Carrying. She also hosts the podcast, The Slowdown. You can read the poem “Foaling Season” in the February 2022 issue of Poetry, in print and online. If you’re not yet a subscriber to the magazine, there’s a special rate for podcast listeners. For a limited time, you can get a full year of the magazine for $20. That’s 11 book-length issues for just $20. Visit poetrymagazine.org/podcastoffer to subscribe. That’s poetrymagazine.org/podcastoffer. This show is produced by Rachel James. The music in this episode came from Resavoir, Alabaster DePlume, John McCowen, Rob Mazurek, and Irreversible Entanglements. Okay, that’s it. Until next time, be well, stay safe, and thanks for listening.

(MUSIC FADES OUT)

This week, Suzi F. Garcia speaks with one of her literary sheroes, Ada Limón. They talk about the importance of seeing but also being seen, the complexity of avoiding a trauma-porn poetics, and naps as part of the creative process. 

We hear two poems from Limón’s newest book, The Hurting Kind, including “Foaling Season” from the February 2022 issue of Poetry

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