Ada Limón Won’t Let Prose Touch the Poetry on Her Shelves

What books are on your night stand?

My night stand doesn’t speak to me anymore. That’s because, here’s the truth: I don’t read at night. The night stand is where books go to die. I think that I’ll read something before bed and then I immediately fall asleep, so the real question is, what books are on my desk? Right now that’s “Eve,” by Cat Bohannon; “Martyr!,” by Kaveh Akbar; Mosab Abu Toha’s “Things You May Find Hidden in My Ear”; “You Can Be the Last Leaf,” by Maya Abu Al-Hayyat; and an advance copy of “The Backyard Bird Chronicles,” by Amy Tan.

How do you organize your books?

I put them in piles during my busy travel months, then I cry and stomp when the piles feel unwieldy, and then my husband ponders if I should get rid of a few, but I will not do that, and then, very methodically I alphabetize them. I also separate them by genres. Prose cannot touch poetry in my little world. And I mean that as an organizing principle and also as a slight against prose.

Describe your ideal reading experience (when, where, what, how).

I’d be reading a book in some sun-filled spot outside, while knowing every human being is safe, cared for, fed, beloved, and all wars have ended. And in our new manifested world that celebrates humanity, interconnectedness, nature and peace, I can sit outside under the oak trees and savor every line of a poem. And the music of the poem will sing back to the music of the world. That’s my ideal reading experience.

Are you able to write outside, in nature, or only at a desk?

I love writing outside. When I’m home in Kentucky, I write on my screened-in porch, that is if it’s warm enough. I love to fill the feeder and watch the birds in between writing lines of poems. Through the years, I’ve trained myself to write anywhere. Planes, hotel rooms — anywhere, really. Though it helps if there is silence. Or sounds of nature.

How did you decide whom to commission for the new anthology?

I chose the poets that I knew had recently been working in interesting ways with the subject of nature. I feel so lucky with the final collection. It’s even more powerful than I imagined.

Did anyone say no? What reason did they give?

There were exactly four poets that said no. They are all wonderful writers who were torn in too many directions by the demands of life to produce something new for the anthology. Life doesn’t always allow writers to write.

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