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The Cat’s Got the Poet’s Tongue

By Ada Limón

I’m sorry that I haven’t been posting. Every time I got a free second to start a post, kerplop: A poem would come out. I suppose that’s no excuse or perhaps, in this setting, it’s the best (or only) excuse. But I do apologize for being remiss. Nevertheless, I was out with a friend last night (wait, I thought you just said, every free second you were writing, ADA?!) and we were sort of sharing our literary loves and the projects we were working on. And at one point we started talking about how difficult it is to talk about a project that is in the works, in the making. The project that is still nascent; before it is the final thing. The book. Of course, there are the pat answers that you give a parties, our well rehearsed tidbits of nada. When everyone else is talking about their jobs, their new houses, writers HAVE to have something to say.

Other than, “Yeah, I write stuff down and actually this conversation we’re having will probably end up in a poem or some novel about suburbia and the secrets of married women’s love lives, but don’t worry my character won’t look EXACTLY like you.” So we make it up. We say things like, “Well, I’m working on a book that is about the natural world.” And in our heads we think, “That’s the vaguest bunch of crap of ever heard.” But we go on saying it. Because we must. We can’t be recording or reporting all the time. Sometimes we’re supposed to talk.
Anyway, this friend and I were discussing that perhaps why it is so difficult, when you’re in the middle of it, is because you have no idea what the end might be. The metaphor we kept using was that of the unborn child. (I’ve got two dear friends that are pregnant right now, so it’s been on the mind.) But I think of a mother, when asked about her unborn child, answering: “Well, he’ll be six feet tall, dark hair. He’ll go to Harvard, and then to Yale. He’ll have an aversion to raisins, but love all shellfish. He’ll make make me coffee. Pay my rent. Write huge important books and eventually be the darling of the literary scene.” I know some mother’s that would love to say that, and I know some writers that would love to tell you what their book will end up being, when fully formed, when all grown up. But maybe at best all we can say is, “I write stuff down.”
Or maybe we need someone else’s words. To practice our lines. I’m going to rehearse these from now on:
“I think that it’s a little different from that for me. I think that my work is easy to understand because I am not a thinker, I am not a …. How can I put it? I write the way I perceive, I guess. It’s not really simple, I don’t think, but it’s about ordinary things — feeling about things, about people. I’m not an intellectual, I’m not an abstract thinker. And I’m interested in ordinary life.”
—Sharon Olds

Comments (2)

  • On May 30, 2008 at 12:31 pm Linh Dinh wrote:

    Hi Ada,
    When a poem is demanding to be written, nothing else matters!

  • On June 17, 2008 at 12:51 am Suzanne wrote:

    Ok… I am completely jealous that poems are kerplopping out of you, but glad because I love to read your work. This Big Fake World is amazing!
    And the unborn child metaphor is very close to one I have been contemplating myself lately, while hitting the proverbial snooze!–the pregnancy metaphor: When I write well, I DO experience the flush of creativity that new mothers say they feel. I would even compare the completion of major projects to childbirth itself–and each poem to the items on a checklist in preparation: Paint nursery; assemble crib; write thank-yous for shower gifts. And sending poems out for publication is a bit like sending children off to school. “Is this the day my child will be recognized?” Acceptance feels like “my child is on the honor roll,” and rejection like his/her afternoon detention. We love them all, even if not always unconditionally, even when we don’t know exactly what’s wrong with them.

Posted in Uncategorized on Friday, May 30th, 2008 by Ada Limón.