Baltic Writing Residency: $1,000 and a mo. stay in Latvia. Apps Due Dec. 15th

Re-posting for the Louisville writer who handles applications:
“Baltic Writing Residency (Poets & Writers listing) is currently accepting applications for the 2013 month-long residency in Riga Latvia. The deadline is December 15th, 2012. Applications can be sent via submishmash ( The BWR provides $1,000, and a month stay at the Hotel Bergs in Riga, Latvia each summer, for one poet, playwright, or writer of fiction working in English. Though, neither the writer nor their project need be connected with Latvia.

And in January the BWR will begin taking applications for its week-long residency in Brora, Scotland.

Both emerging and established writers are encouraged to apply. Recent finalists and winners range from those who have yet to conceive of their first manuscripts, to writers who have held Guggenheim Fellowships and Whiting Writers’ Awards, as well as finalists for the National Book Award and numbered in the New Yorker’s “20 Under 40”. Previous winners include Salvatore Scibona, Catherine Wagner, Joshua Cohen, Viccy Adams, Emma Jones, Amity Gaige, and Kyle McCord.

Spouses and partners are welcome to accompany the winning writer on the residency. Details about the residency, about Riga, and about the application process can be found on the website:

Please feel free to pass this information on to friends and students.”

Local Literary Picks for “Cyber Monday”! (no short-term deals, only great, local books available all year!)

While these may not exactly be rock-bottom prices on consumer goods, I wanted to show everyone who may be in the midst of the early holiday-shopping frenzy where they might find some local books & journals for themselves and other bibliophiles in their lives!

Sheri Wright, poet and fine-art photographer, self-released her sixth collection The Feast of Erasure this year. You can purchase poetry books and photo prints directly.

Local poet and journalist, not to mention the progenitor of InKY (say thanks next time you see her!), Erin Keane has  two books Death-Defying Acts, a collection of gritty prose poems about complex carnival folk, and The Gravity Soundtrack, filled with poems inspired by (mostly American Rock) music.

Affrilachian poet Makalani Bandele‘s book Hell-Fightin’ is rife with jazz and history.

Sean Patrick Hill is the author of two poetry collections and a few hiking books. He has a new collection forthcoming in 2013, and you can find links to buy his book on his blog.

Lynelle Major Edwards is the president of Louisville Literary Arts (the local, non-profit organization behind InKY and The Writer’s Block festival) as well as the author of three full-length collections of poetry which you can read about and purchase here. Her blog also has a section outlining the wonderful organizations responsible for Keeping Louisville Literary!

Brian Leung is the author of the novels Take Me Home and World Famous Love Acts. Look for his work at Carmichael’s Books and other local bookstores.

Adam Day is the author of the poetry chapbook Badger Apocrypha,  which can be found at Carmichael’s as well. He is searching for a publisher for a newer, full-length collection of poems and writing a novel.

Kirby Gann is the author of three novels: The Barbarian Parade, Our Napoleon in Rags, and mostly recently Ghosting (click to read reviews including kudos from Publisher’s Weekly).

Typecast publishing is an up-and-coming small press that likes to make unique books by hand. Originating out of The Lumberyard magazine project with Fire Cracker Press (#10 available soon!), this Louisville, KY based publisher has had a huge impact on the local lit. scene and continues to volunteer time, etc. to The Writer’s Block festival, and other projects. They’ve so far published fiction and poetry which you can find for purchase on their website (I recommend M. Bartley Seigel’s collection of poems about the rust-belt, This is What They Say; he also heads a rag called PANK which isn’t local but I do HIGHLY recommend reading it).

Larkspur Press is a publisher of hand-made books whose letterpress shop is in Monterey, KY. They have published Fred Smock who currently teaches at Bellarmine, Richard Taylor formerely at Kentucky University, and UofL graduate and current KY poet-laureate Maureen Morehead among others. These hand-cut and bound books feature wood-block and linoleum block prints by artists such as Steve Armstrong and many others.

Sarabande Books is a non-profit literary press founded in 1994 in Louisville, KY. They focus on poetry, short fiction, and essay. You can search their catalog here.

Catch-up is headed up locally by Adam Day and Jeff Hipsher. They have recently released their third issue guest edited by Catherine Wagner, Sean Bishop, Hannah Gamble, and DA Powell.

You can read interviews with most of these authors and publishers here. Take a look; inform your holiday and other purchases. Remember, these folks work for a living. They don’t mark up their goods, and thus you won’t find any high-pressure sales, only fine literary art! This means two things: you’re putting money in the hands of the makers, and you can shop local books all year long! Also, whether you dig any of the books listed above or not, please BUY LOCAL and KEEP LOUISVILLE LITERARY!

(Full Disclosure: I am privileged to know some of these fine artists personally)

Best Turkey or Tofurky Follow-up: Poetry, Music, and (perhaps) Whiskey!

Hey everyone! I’m a bit busy with holiday/family stuff right now (not to mention MFA applications), and I’m sure all of you are busy too. However, Sunday night (well after Thanksgiving is over) there’s another wonderful poetry event going down at The Bards Town (1801 Bardstown rd.):

The November edition of Stone Soup Poetry series features poets Ellen Birkett Morris, Tina Parker, and Mischa Feigin and includes musical entertainment from Mischa Feigin (who has played quite at Decca and other venues with John Gage and other well-known local pickers) and A Girl Named Earl.

Doors/Open-mic signups are at 5pm, event kicks off at 5:30pm sharp. The Bards Town has excellent food and libations (in case you have Friday off and overdo your celebrating, or just to enjoy for no particular reason!).

p.s. Mr. Feigin’s poetry is as well-honed as his picking.

p.p.s. Click on readers’ names to preview some of their work online!

Wonderful, succinct interview with Dorthea Lasky!

Philadelphia Stories

The Sandy Crimmins National Prize for Poetry draws to a close tonight at midnight (, I thought it would be interesting to talk with the judge of this year’s prize. Below is our interview.

Wittle: What books are you reading right now?

Lasky: Today I am re-reading W.C. Williams’ Spring and All. Yesterday I re-read The Bernadette Mayer Reader.

Wittle: What books do you feel help poets write poetry?

Lasky: I feel that grounding poetry-writing in experiences helps poets write poetry. My favorite thing to do is write poetry in museums.


Wittle:  What is the key element that makes a poem a poem?

Lasky: The connection between a specific and the universal.


Wittle: In your opinion, what is the most difficult form of poetry to write?

Lasky: I am not sure that I think any form is more difficult than any other. I…

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Classically influenced poet Joe Brashear Wed. 11-14 @Subterranean Phrases

Keep Louisville Literary, ever diligent to spread the word, connected electronically with Joe Brashear before his set at Subterranean Phrases, on Wed. November 14th at 9pm.

From the event invite: “Joe Len Brashear has devoted much of his life to language, having studied Anglo-Saxon, French, Greek, Latin, and Hebrew. He received a bachelor’s in English from the University of Louisville and has completed the coursework for a bachelor’s in Classics from the University of Kentucky. He intends to become a Psychiatrist. Poetically he has sought to labor in as great a variety of forms as he could: from verse novella to verse drama to ordinary poems. He remains especially thankful for his friends who have supported his insanity, his high school French teacher Mrs. Bradley, and his first college Hebrew professor, Dr. “Ned” Rosenbaum, who died last December.

Russell Schartzer, on Tuba, will be playing atmospheric improv while Joe reads. He has a couple solo tuba pieces for us also and there will be limited open mic slots before and after the featured set. The cocktails are delicious, but there we will also have PBR [on special].”

Keep Louisville Literary: Your course of study has taken many turns during your college career. Please tell us a bit about your background and how your formal education influences your poetic.

Joe Brashear: My formal education, thus far, has actually followed my poetic interests.  Robert Graves spoke of the Irish Ollaves who had to study (master, actually) all realms of knowledge, and I have purposely diversified [my own studies] to some extent.

KLL: In your manuscript “A Message to You, Rudy” you use many classical allusions, quotes from ancient philosophers, and also what appears (to my layman’s eyes) to be ancient Greek. Could you describe your intention with regards to this academic density?

JB: The first poem contained in the manuscript was the first written in the series, and at that time I was working on an essay about Aristophanes.  The issue of Classical allusion is a fraught one.  At one time, poets felt a necessity of quoting from the Classics or the Bible.  It is not something I have done purposely, and I think it will be seen that there is some decrease in the course of the manuscript; after I had finished my course work.  However, I do not shy from making these allusions when I feel like making them.  Some poets today avoid allusions, and even things like metaphor and simile, preferring a very skeletal style. That obviously isn’t me.

KLL: How do you reconcile such difficultly in language with the problem of intended or at least expected audience?

JB: Firstly, I am not that good at these languages.  I have a very good working knowledge of them, but I have to work very hard to use them; I am not one of those who can command them right out of their head.  My muse, so to speak, talked about this, and there is a poem in the series with the obvious title “Audience” about the subject.  [With] anything I read, I do not expect anyone to understand all I say, or know all my references.  But with wikipedia, etc., I think [anyone] might easily get a lot of these references.  Finally, there is a dichotomy between what is good on paper, and what is good read aloud, and I know that many of my poems simply wouldn’t work well read aloud, although I have had some surprises in that regard.  Some of my most academic pieces provoke laughter.

KLL: You will graduate with a B.A. in classics from UK next years. Tell us about your experiences with the program there.

JB: The University of Kentucky actually has one of the most rigorous and excellent Classics programs in the country, including the only Latin-speaking program.  Unfortunately we have no PhD.  UK also is the only university in Kentucky that even has a BA in Classics.  There are many excellent professors.  I regard Dr. Milena Minkova virtually as a God.  On the other hand, I have noticed a distressing amount of religious sectarianism among those professors who are not, as I would presume, humanists.  Over the years, I decided that Classics was not an environment in which I would like to continue.

KLL: What can we expect to hear at Subterranean Phrases?

JB: I have come to consider formality as another way of being free.  I would not describe myself as a formalist as opposed to a free verse poet, because while I have written in most metres and genres (such as tragedy and verse novella) in which poetry comes, I have also written much “free” verse (although I don’t think anything I’ve written qualifies as non-linear).  Here, I am trying to use the forms that will come across the best, and so on the one hand I am using rhymed poetry, and on the other hand I have a few pieces that are more like short stories; which I hope the audience will get.  They are generally long enough that there will only be about ten poems.

Affrilachian Poet Makalani Bandele on the “Wild, Poetic Line”

Poet Makalani Bandele will read Saturday Nov. 10 at 4pm @A Reader’s Corner (2044 Frankfort Ave. Louisville, KY 40206) with Merle Bachman and Sonja de Vries. Keep Louisville Literary caught up with Mak to ask about his jazz poetic and life as an Affrilachian poet:

Keep Louisville Literary: Some of your poems explore African-American history with jazz inspired lines. The resulting poems, in my opinion, carry the reader through stories and emotions the same way that listeners were and still are taken on journeys by Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Fats Waller and other jazz greats. Could you tell us about your unique poetic?

Makalani Bandele: First and foremost, I craft poems that are in dialogue with a great tradition, poets I reach for: Rita Dove, Amiri Baraka, Ed Roberson, Carl Phillips, Hart Crane, Robert Hayden, Pablo  Neruda, Claudia Rankine, T. S. Eliot, Richard Hugo, Ezra Pound, James Wright, John Ashbery, Theodore Roethke, Bruce Smith, Lucille Clifton, Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson, Frank Bidart, Gwendolyn Brooks, Honoree Fanonne Jeffers, Stephen Jonas, Federico Garcia Lorca, Audre Lorde, Tyehimba Jess. My poems come out of books more than my life. Of course what I see, feel and experience work themselves into the poems, however I strive to make my experience relevant, relevant to the larger things like the Middle Passage, sexism, poverty, or global warming.

Second, from a young age I was bathed in the twin African-American traditions of orality and music. From a child, I have been enamored with the art of storytelling, the linguistic inventiveness and musicality of African-American expression I heard in my home and in the streets. I also developed an intimate connection to African-American music as a child listening to the Hard Bop and rhythm & blues music of my parents, and the funk, hip hop and 70’s Soul music of my older sister. So, my poetics are largely made up of an experiment to capture and contain the nuances of an African American worldview, as well as the arts of African American speech and music within a wild, poetic line. I am concerned with how to write poems that are as imaginative and musical, that is to say funky, as they can be. This translates into poems rhythmically or sonically interesting, but also funky in how ideas or a collage of images might excite the reader’s imagination to dance or heart to melt.

More to the point I often use music theory to guide my understanding of how I want to approach the poetic line. For example, I often create and organize the lines in a poem in the way that I understand improvisers do in their solos. People think Jazz improvisation is all about feeling, that the musician is playing what he or she is feeling at the moment. This is a very sexy way of looking at Jazz, but it is not really accurate. Jazz improvisation is actually quite a cerebral activity. Solos are full of memorized phrases and chord progressions, references to popular songs and other musicians’ solos, as well as fill-in-the-blanks with the right note based on your own tastes, and knowledge of the scales and ability to play them. Now how things get put together, that is what line follows what, has to do with various kinds of associations the musician might make. She may have one phrase follow another because they lead into each other based on their chord structure, or they may be chiastic, or a couple of notes in one phrase may be the foundation of  a popular four bar phrase that could follow it. I like constructing poems using this same type of associative approach to line generation and organization. I will come up with a line, and the line that follows it may pick up one word from the first line and make it its subject. The next line might be an image that relates tangentially to the subject of the previous line like coffee and cigarette might relate.

KLL: Other poems delve directly into and between jazz notes, even becoming part of the text and in turn rhythms that you hum and mimic on the microphone. These music-centric poems, such as le fete (trans: The Celebration), examine the effect of music on the listener. I’m not familiar with poems which have attempted this, so I’ll ask two things: Is there a poet who influenced you on this subject and style, or is this just the influence of jazz and blues that has inspired you personally? Who are a few of the musicians who inspire you to write these types of poems?

MB: The real pioneer of what I am trying to do stylistically would probably be Langston Hughes. Hughes was the first poet I came across using what I call sonics (a phonetic rendering of music, i.e. da-da-da-da-da   dada, which is how you might render the first four bars of Coltrane’s Giant Steps) in his poems. In all truth though, sonics is just what in Jazz is called scatting. Think of a poem like Hughes’s Dream Boogie , which captures the rhythms of Swing almost perfectly and ends with some lovely vocal improvisation: “Hey, pop!/ Re-bop!/ Mop!/ Y-e-a-h!” After Hughes, the next poet to come along and incorporate this Jazz vocalization in poetry would be Amiri Baraka, and he would be who I would say I have borrowed/learned the most from. Baraka took it the next level.

Another rhetorical device that I use a great deal is the referencing of songs lyrics in the text of the poem and singing them in its recitation. This goes back as far as James Weldon Johnson. [Unfortunately] the African-American poetic tradition is pretty much entirely ignored by academia (to the detriment of the craft of poetry). Although I will say that poems of mine like la fete and a black history lesson are the first that I am aware of that make use the vocalization of traditional West African drumming rhythms as rhetorical devices.

As far as subject matter, again African-American poets have always been intensely interested in the African-American music tradition. African-American poets have always written about, tried to capture, and mimic the Spirituals, Blues, Jazz, and now Hip Hop. I am just as Arthur Blythe says, “in the tradition.” And so being in the tradition, I have poems that are influenced by different genres of African-American music, not just Jazz. I hate to single out individuals or groups that inspire me so let me list a couple from the various genres.

-The worksongs: Johnny Lee Moore, Benny Will Richardson

-Blues: Charlie Patton, Texas Alexander

-Jazz: Thelonius Monk, Eric Dolphy

-Funk: The Barkays, The Ohio Players

-Soul: Curtis Mayfield, Roberta Flack

-Dancehall: Cutty Ranks, Sister Nancy

-Hip Hop: The Roots, Goodie Mob

KLL: Your collection Hellfightin’ came out this year from Willow Books. Has the book publication changed your life as a poet (more performances, reviews, touring, fans, etc.)?

MB: No, not really. The way the current landscape of literary poetry is arrayed, either your book has to win one of the elite awards, or you have to be well connected in academia, teaching or administrating, to really acquire a lot of readings and acclaim for your work. I can’t complain though, being an Affrilachian Poet and Cave Canem fellow has helped me tremendously in terms of getting reviewed, readings, and the exposure I need. I have it so much better than many emerging poets out there. I can’t praise these two organizations enough. It is pretty amazing how my relationship with the writers in these organizations make me a better poet through workshop opportunities and one-on-one mentoring, but also most of my opportunities in the way you are thinking (readings, reviews, etc.,) comes from these same relationships.

I have to say though that the actual writing of the book changed me and by extension my life. I am so much more aware and in touch with my “selves” after writing this book. I feel more fully in control of my faculties of seeing, introspection, and expression than before I wrote this book. It’s a lot more difficult for me to bullshit myself after writing Hellfightin’.

KLL: You’re also part of the Affrilachian poets, a group founded by Frank X Walker. Could you tell us about the purpose of that group, and how being a part of it has affected you as a poet?

MB: The purpose of the AP’s is to create a cultural space for writers of color that live or have their roots in the region of Appalachia, the mountain range stretching over thirteen states along the East Coast of the U.S. from Alabama to New York. Prior to [the AP’s] founding, hardly anyone associated people of color with Appalachia, let alone artists and writers of color. We see our work as giving voice to the life and struggle of people of color in this region and supporting and nurturing those writers that are sharing in this work. As I mentioned earlier, being an AP has been a twofold blessing: woodshedding and work-shopping my work with other AP’s has helped me to hone my craft. Fellow AP’s hip me to new poetry and critical work that is out. We push each other to excellence, when somebody wins a book prize, or is awarded a prestigious fellowship the rest of us are inspired and driven to become the best we can be. But we also help each other professionally. You don’t know how to write a CV? Somebody in the group has your back. And then there are all the opportunities to read and teach that come along in connection with the cultural work that we do. Make no mistake, being an Affrilachian Poet has been the single-most important factor in the development of my craft and professional career as a writer.

KLL: I’m assuming you’ve been all over. How are the Affrilachian poets received in places outside of the Appalachian region?

MB: When I have traveled with the Affrilachian Poets, it has mostly been in the Appalachian Region, which is practically the whole eastern seaboard. There are mountain folk and their attendant culture from New York all the way down to Alabama. And then, you have to think about feeder cities, which are the metropolitan areas that mountain people migrate to, places like Pittsburgh, Boston, New York, Cincinnati, Richmond, Charlotte, Louisville, Nashville, and the list goes on. When mountain folk migrate to these cities they take their ways with them. Appalachian Mountain culture has had a profound impact on the culture of America. I would argue that outside of African-American culture, no sub-culture has had more of an impact on popular American culture than Appalachian culture. From whiskey-making to NASCAR to Country Music, all these things have their antecedents in Appalachian culture. So, getting back to your question, the farthest West outside of Appalachia that I have traveled with the AP’s is Chicago. And they loved us in Chitown. We have such a broad range of subject matter in our work (we don’t just talk about Appalachia) that we are really not going to have a problem reaching and connecting with people wherever we go.

KLL: Finally, the tried and true closer: Which poets have inspired you lately? What books are you reading?

MB: To be honest, I haven’t been reading much at all in the past few months, which tells you I haven’t been writing much. I have been in kind of a funk lately, which means I have been watching a lot movies (I especially love Latin American films), British tele, and bumping into a lot of art and music on the interwebs.

But since the final days of writing Hellfightin’, three poets are my go to cats in terms of inspiration and imitation: Fred Moten, Ed Roberson, and Bruce Smith. I am seldom ever out and about without my copies of Smith’s Devotions and Moten’s B Jenkins. Other than those three I am finding the work of women and LGBTQ poets the most interesting. I am very moved by the work of Saeed Jones, he doesn’t have a book out yet, but it won’t be long now. He is one of the most visceral and poignant poets I have ever read. His images elicit a bodily response from me every time. There are lines in his poems where after I have read it, I know in my fingertips, my tongue, and spine what he is talking about. It is a strange feeling when something so fresh and new to you as a line you’ve never read before, can feel so immediately familiar. Saeed is one of Jericho Brown’s (a great poet in his own right) Phantastique 5. I love all of these guys’ work. I am also very fond of the work of Lillian Yvonne-Bertram. She has a new book out called But a Storm is Blowing from Paradise, which is devastating. In my mind, she is one of the most wildly imaginative young poets writing. For me reading one of Lillian’s poems is like walking into a funhouse of language when you are totally tweaking. One more poet particularly interesting me at the moment is Betsy Wheeler, her new book is called Loud Dreaming in a Quiet Room. Her work is just crazy fun. Her imagination is just so unbridled and I love how you never know where she is going from one line to the next, it’s not as extreme as Ashbery, you can still see how lines are leading to one another, but it’s still discursive enough to surprise and delight at every turn [of phrase].

Makalani (or “mak”) Bandele is a Louisville, KY native. He is an ordained Baptist minister and pastored churches in North Carolina before becoming a writer, musician, and freelance instructor of Literature and Creative Writing. He holds degrees from the University of Notre Dame and Shaw University-Divinity School. A member of the Affrilachian Poets since 2008, Makalani is the recipient of an Ernest Sandeen Poetry Prize, a Literary LEO 1st Prize in Poetry, and a fellowship from Cave Canem Foundation. His poetry has been anthologized in My Brothers’ Keeper, Storytellers, and the upcoming Red Holler and can be read or is forthcoming in Mythium Literary Magazine, Tidal Basin Review, African-American Review, Prime Number Magazine, Pluck!, The Journal of Affrilachian Arts and Culture, Black Arts Quarterly, Platte Valley Review, and Sou’wester. Makalani has a self-published chapbook called the Cadence of Echoes, and Hellfightin’, published by Willow Books, is his first full-length volume of poetry. Learn more and connect with Mak on his website.

Exploring the Heart of Poetry with Ada Limón

Ada Limón read last friday at Java Bardstown with Jessica Farquhar and S. Whitney Holmes as part of Catch Up Magazine’s third issue release party hosted by Speak Social. Keep Louisville Literary re-connected electronically to ask Ms. Limón about her exuberance and love for the poetic craft:

Keep Louisville Literary: You’re not only a well-respected, busy poet, but also a true believer in the power of poetry (see Ada’s article in Guernica). You’ve mentioned that poems help you get through bad days, and I for one feel the same way. Why do you think poetry (especially new, experimental, or non-traditional work) remains under the public radar as compared to popular fiction? Could you share with our readers a few titles which have lately come to your rescue?

Ada Limón: I think the reason why poetry isn’t as widely read as let’s say, popular fiction, is because it’s not marketed correctly. No one knows what to think of poetry. What does it do for us? A lot of people’s initial reaction to the idea of poetry, is that it’s difficult, that they won’t “get it.”  I think that’s totally heartbreaking, but also totally understandable. No one wants to read something that makes them feel stupid, or left out, or not good enough. I certainly don’t. I think, sometimes, people have the misconception that poetry is an antiquated art form designed more to muddle meaning than to inspire or entertain us. It’s ingrained in human nature to crave stories, we want them read to us as children, to be told around the fire, we want to see ourselves, our lives in these stories, and to have a sense of both escapism and transformation. People don’t know that poetry can do that, because they have the preconceived notion that poems take a tremendous amount of work to even comprehend, let alone be moved by.

But the truth is, good poems, poems that have a sense of truth and play and yes, even a sense of story, can take us outside ourselves, transport us, and leave us changed (for the better)…and they can do all this in a brief period of 3-7 minutes. How awesome is that? If I told you that you could take 7 minutes a day to read a piece of writing that would let you feel something real, connect you to the world, and give you a deeper meaning of your own life, wouldn’t you want to do it? Good poems, in my opinion, say one thing, and one thing well. They say, “Me too.” We all need someone to say that to us. Your heart is broken? Me too. You’re poor and unhappy, but you want to go on? Me too. You feel alone when people are all around? Me too. That “Me too,” aspect of poetry is incredibly powerful; it’s the engine of empathy that we need so much. So, in my opinion, poetry needs a new slogan, something that will change what people think of poetry.

And as writers, we need to make sure we’re talking to the reader. Otherwise, what’s the point? If you’re a poet that writes poems just for yourself, that’s great, but then don’t be upset if people don’t understand them or feel shut out by them. If you want poems that sound great, but don’t necessarily have a lot of narrative meaning, that’s awesome, but they better sound amazing, so the music rises above the need for clarity. If you want poems to connect to people, if you want poetry to become more popular, that’s part of your job as a poet writing today, that’s part of your contract with the work.

And lastly, I think the other problem is that people believe poetry lives on the page. It doesn’t. It may exist on the page, but that’s not where the life is. The life of a poem is in the mouth. Pick up a poem or Google one, or whatever, and read it out loud. That’s when you’ll see the skeleton really start to dance.  Often times, poetry is marketed or viewed as something precious, beautiful, and elitist. But really, poetry is meant to be read in whispers in dark bars and read in open fields; it’s meant to turn you on; it’s meant to break your heart when you need it, and heal it when you need it. It’s something you need to read out loud to yourself, to your friends, to your lover, to your dog. It’s real and human and full of the biggest stories of all: the rich messy stories of the human heart. In some ways, poetry is the more obvious choice, even the easier choice, for an occasional reader. Want to read something that resonates deeply, transports you, and makes you feel something real…all in the time it takes to find the remote control stuffed in between the couch cushions? Read poetry!

Here are a few of my current go-to poems (there are SO many, I’m just listing the ones on my desktop at the moment).

This one. Especially after Sandy. “Thanks,” W.S. Merwin:

This one. For heartbreak. For life. “Faint Music,” Robert Hass:

This one. For joy. “To Be Alive,” Gregory Orr:

This one. For America. For race. For fathers. “Enlightenment,” Natasha Trethewey:

This one. For nature. For the moon. For mothers. “Facts About the Moon,” Dorriane Laux:

This one. For fathers. For sons. For work. “In Colorado, My Father Stacked and Scoured Dishes,” Eduardo C. Corral:

This one. For words. “Vocabulary,” Jason Schneiderman:

This one. For New York. For grace. “New York Poem,” Terrance Hayes:

KLL: Your first two books, both published in 2006, won prizes in 2005. Can I embarrass you for a moment to ask about that experience? It must have been an exciting year.

Ada: It was a terribly exciting year. Let’s see if I can remember any of it? It was early March 2006 that Lucky Wreck was officially in my hands. I opened my first copy hiding in the kitchen of an event studio in Chelsea, while I was working for Martha Stewart. (I was the Event Manager at Martha Stewart Omnimedia at the time.) I couldn’t believe the book really existed…that it was mine, and in my hands.  My manuscript was chosen by Jean Valentine as the winner of the Autumn House Poetry Prize; they just did a remarkable job with that book. I still remember the phone call I received from Michael Simms at my office; I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I was sure he’d gotten the wrong number. So, Lucky Wreck came out in March of 2006, and then only a few months later, I got the call that This Big Fake World was chosen by Frank X. Gaspar as the winner of the Pearl Poetry Prize. It was surreal. I still laugh that the awesome people I worked with at Martha Stewart must have thought that it was easy as pie to get a poetry book published since they watched me get two accepted within six months of each other. This Big Fake World was in my hands by December 2006. It was also the year I turned 30. Everything was changing…but also nothing at all. I felt this huge sense of validation as an artist, but I also still had to make rent, pay my student loans, break up with my boyfriend at the time, and learn to be a real breathing human in the world. All the big hard stuff was still there, but at least I felt like my work was out in the world; that’s a tremendously good feeling.

KLL: Follow up question— collections of any length can take quite some time to complete. Did you have a particularly productive and inspired year or were these collections both either in progress or collecting digital dust for some time before the awards?

Ada: The manuscripts for both Lucky Wreck and This Big Fake World were both circulating at the same time, that’s true, but they’re very different books. Lucky Wreck is a lyrical narrative collection focusing on autobiographical (and hopefully universal) events, while This Big Fake World is a story in verse and is entirely fictional. Lucky Wreck was a manuscript that came together over time and was a collection of poems spanning many years (I think only two poems in the book are from my graduate thesis), while, This Big Fake World was written during a seven month period while I was unemployed and was desperately looking for a life that was not my own. So, even though they were written around the same time, they were very different projects and in some ways I don’t think they ever overlapped. I never thought they’d both come out around the same time. I used to call, Lucky Wreck my girl, and This Big Fake World my boy, based on which readers seemed to relate to the books the most. I suppose Sharks in the Rivers is my spirit animal. The next book will be my heathen heart.

KLL: Reading the swath of your work that is available online, I notice that you can write very direct poems with beautiful emotional themes and steady metaphors, and also abstract, visceral and emotional assaulting poems. Both styles seem to come naturally for you; they read fluidly and feel sincere. For those poets and readers who may have trouble navigating styles, breaking out of their comfort zone, or only understand certain types of poems, could you please talk about your personal poetic, shifting between styles, and perhaps tell us about those things which you feel all good poems have in common?

Ada: First of all, thank you. I love to play with different forms and different styles of poetry. I feel like different times, different emotions, different subjects, all inherently call for different styles. Sometimes I crave the tension of a form, or the freedom of free verse, or the long line or the short line, but whatever poem I’m working on, I’m trying to get to some sort of truth. Not the literal truth, but something that rings true. We don’t say something “rings factual,” I mean truth in the way something sparkles and sings. I look for that in the poems that I love, that sense of something vibrating, opening, the original song.

KLL: You currently split your time between California, Kentucky, and New York. Could you elaborate on the differences between your three homes, or perhaps how your life as a writer changes with each location (i.e. does each place inspire your differently, or do you do different work in each place)?

Ada: Kentucky is currently our primary home, an apartment out in the country, with great neighbors, a fake fireplace, and places to hike and walk right outside the door. I have a home office where I write a great deal, do freelance marketing work, and spend many hours scheming up ways to make a living and make some decent art. It’s quiet and calm and a very homey home with cheap meals in the slow cooker and our sweet little loony dog wandering back and forth. I’m working on my fourth book of poems here now and revising my novel. The place we have in Sonoma was leant to us by our generous friends who wanted to help me work on my first novel (which is very close to being finished and is set in the Sonoma Valley). It’s a very special place and it’s where I first experienced what it was to write full time. It’s in my hometown and I feel deeply connected to the landscape and the people there. New York is my adopted hometown. I moved there when I was 23 and lived there for 12 years. Most of my coming of age was done broke and in Brooklyn. It’s where I wrote my first three books and where I worked with amazing people in the magazine industry. In many ways, it still feels like home. Currently, my heart is really hurting for those affected by Hurricane Sandy right now. The destruction the storm caused was really horrible, and it’s going to take a long time for the city to get back on track, but if any city can take a punch and come back swinging, it’s NYC.  All three of my places are very important to me, but primarily I’m happy if I’ve got my love, my dog, and my books.

KLL: We usually end with the “who are you reading” go-to, but since that was covered more or less at the start, I’ll ask this: did you bring books to sell at the Catch  Up party, and can readers find your work in Louisville or Lexington bookstores?

Ada: Thanks so much for this interview! Yes, I sold all the books I brought to the reading. And I’ve been told that Sharks in the Rivers is on the shelves in Carmichael’s in Louisville, and at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington. All three books are fairly easy for your local bookstore to order, or you can always get them on Amazon, or directly from the publishers. I’m thinking of setting up a Paypal account for the holidays so you can order signed books from me online. We shall see. Also, I’m teaching a rare online course this winter at the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. I think it’s going to be a really great class; there’s only 15 slots so sign up here if you’d like to join us. Thanks again!

ADA LIMÓN received her Master of Fine Arts in Poetry at New York University where she studied with the current U.S. Poet Laureate Philip Levine among others. Limón has received fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, and was awarded the Chicago Literary Award for Poetry. Her first collection of poetry, Lucky Wreck (Autumn House Press, 2006), was the winner of the 2005 Autumn House Poetry Prize. She is also the author of This Big Fake World (Pearl Editions, 2006), winner of the 2005 Pearl Poetry Prize, and Sharks in the Rivers (Milkweed Editions, 2010). She is currently working on a book of essays, a novel, and a new collection of poems. She works as a freelance writer and splits her time between Lexington, Kentucky and Sonoma, California (with a great deal of New York in between).

Mary Ruefle + more in Louisville this week!

Louisville is fortunate to have multiple readings with award winning writers this week; events are free so don’t miss out!

Thursday 11/8 @Bingham Poetry room in UofL’s Erkstrom Library (next to Speed Museum) extraordinary poet and Guggenheim fellow Mary Ruefle will read at 7:30pm!

Friday 11/9 InKY has Lynn Pruett and Ellen Birkett Morris. Open mic sign ups at 6:30, event at 7pm @The Bards Town (1801 Bardstown rd)

Saturday 11/10 poets Makalani Bandele, Sonja de Vries, and Merle Bachman will read at 4pm @A Reader’s Corner (2044 Frankfort Ave. Louisville, KY 40206)

Keep an eye out for my interview with Makalani in the next day or two!