Visiting Writer’s Series: An Interview with Ada Limón

Visiting Writer’s Series: An Interview with Ada Limón


We don’t know about you, but the staff over here at Café cannot wait to hear Ada Limón read tonight. In preparation for Limón’s visit, editor Yohanca Delgado chatted with her about form, voice, and swimming with Natalie Diaz.


CA: You’ve said in previous interviews that you wish form poetry were more popular. How do you decide when to apply a form to a poem and when to write in free verse?

AL: Did I say that? I don’t remember that, but I do love poems in form. For me, it’s all about sound. Sometimes I need a form to force me to attempt to contain the uncontainable and other times I need to follow my own music. It really depends on what the poem is asking for in the moment and what music I need to bow down to.


CA: Each of your books has a voice that seems to carry through the collection. How do you hone that voice in writing a new book? Does the voice guide you in writing the poems, or does it emerge as you write?

AL: I’ve always been driven and excited by voice. I love hearing poems with a strong voice in them. It makes me realize how weird and idiosyncratic we all are. I crave that. I crave poems that aren’t afraid of exploding their own weirdness. I think that’s what voice really is, permission to speak your own strangeness. For me, I write one poem at a time and the books evolve from there. Each poem is in the moment and then they expand into books.


CA: In a previous interview, you mentioned that a poet’s main gift to the world is empathy: the ability to say “me too.” How do you balance the tension between the universal and the individual in your work?

AL: I think a great deal of my work is interested in speaking to someone. Sometimes that someone is myself. Sometimes it’s a larger group of humans. I don’t need to work too much at being personal, as in naturally inclined to tell secrets, but what I do work at is making sure that I somehow acknowledge that my experience is not the only one. We are all grieving, loving, trying, giving up, and trying all over again.


CA: The concept of names echoes through your collections. In “Nashville After Hours,” for example, the narrator looks in the mirror, “saying my name like I was somebody.” What does a name—or the utterance of a name— mean to you as a poet?

AL: I think naming can mean simply shouting “I exist! I exist” which I need to be reminded of sometimes. There’s a level where naming is what we are all working at…the work of finding words for what is indefinable. Words fail us all the time. Even our own names. In writing poetry, we are interested in the attempt to get in right, knowing that writing is always failing on some level.


CA: If you could dine with one living poet and one historical poet, who would you choose and why? 

AL: I’d love to have dinner with Pablo Neruda and Natalie Diaz…what an amazing conversation that would be! We’d make up new words for everything and he could bartend while Natalie and I perused his beetle collection and swam in the sea.


Read more about Limón’s work here.

Join us tonight to hear Limón read from Bright Dead Things in the Abramson Room of the SIS Building.




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Yohanca Delgado is a staff editor at Café Américain and a first-year candidate in American University’s Creative Writing MFA program.

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