Poet Of The Week

Ananda Lima

     April 18–24, 2022

Ananda Lima’s poetry collection Mother/land (Black Lawrence Press, 2021) is the winner of the Hudson Prize. She is also the author of four chapbooks: Vigil (Get Fresh Books, 2021), Tropicália (Newfound, 2021), Amblyopia (Bull City Press, 2020) and Translation (Paper Nautilus, 2019). Her work has appeared in the American Poetry Review, Poets.org, Kenyon Review Online, Gulf Coast, Pleiades and elsewhere. She has been awarded the inaugural Work-In-Progress Fellowship by Latinx in Publishing, sponsored by Macmillan Publishers, for her fiction manuscript-in-progress. She has an MA in linguistics from UCLA, and an MFA in creative writing from Rutgers–Newark. On Thursday, April 21, Lima will read for the Brooklyn Poets Reading Series via Zoom along with Eugenia Leigh and Tom Sleigh.

Line

 

I inherited from my mother

the knobbly joints and square ends

of my fingers

from my father, I got the habit of biting

my nails

their shortness, the frayed missing skin

had never bothered me

but now I have a son

and he has begun to bite too

In America, I learned that I can snap

a rubber band against my wrist

each time my hand reaches up

towards the mouth

On the back of my hand

the rubber band disappears

into the color of my skin

but when I turn and face the inner side

it is a clear division

of my body

The first time I saw a cotton tree

I found it beautiful

the cotton so white in its brown cradle

so soft against the square tips of my fingers

I squeezed the dead flower around it

and felt joy

from hearing it crackle

As children, we had cups full of sugar

cane we chewed on it and spit

out the bagasse

toothless men ran the knobbly stalks

through a machine, the juice

trickled into our glasses

and the flat piece that came out

on the other side

was put through it again

until everything was gone

the dry split stalk thrown into a pile

limp like blond hair

When I first arrived in America, I didn’t understand

what people meant when they said

with an American accent that they were

Irish or Italian or French

Now that I understand

I asked my mother for a family

tree

She said

she had never thought of such things

and she wouldn’t know much past

her grandmother’s first name

So what I have is my memory

of the faces of my relatives

and my own

When I first arrived in America, all I could see

was beauty

the snow fine like sugar

white like cotton

But now the beauty

the land, the tired

metaphors

just make me sad

Before I left for America, I saw an individual

in the mirror

but today, I see my father, my mother, my brothers

my son

and a man missing skin

from tears on his back

and the man who did it

When I looked this morning,

I tugged on my rubber band

so hard

that it broke

 

—From Mother/land, Black Lawrence Press, 2021.

Brooklyn Poets · Ananda Lima, "Line"

Tell us about the making of this poem.

I had been thinking a lot about lineage and ancestors, about the similarities and differences in conceptions of race in Brazil and America, about history encoded in my body, about my family, my parents. I knew I was brewing a poem for a while. I could feel it forming in me, but I didn’t know what it would be. The specific of the rubber band and my father’s nail-biting (and mine) came to me in a dream, after I had been thinking about it for a while. I woke up with it in the middle of the night and wrote the poem. This is not super common for me (the dream thing). It is rare, but it does happen sometimes when I am trying to figure out something.

What are you working on right now?

I was awarded a wonderful fellowship by Latinx in Publishing, supported by Macmillan Publishers, to revise my short story collection Craft. The collection features ontologically ambiguous ghosts, the devil, people coming out of vending machines, visa troubles and other hauntings. It is wonderful to get so much support as I finish it. As part of the fellowship, I get to work with with Ali Fisher, who is so generous and a wonderful editor. That is my main focus right now.

But I can’t do just one thing, so I am also working on a second poetry collection which is converging around binocular vision, parallax, doubleness, symmetry, bilingualism, legacy and, weirdly, also the prairie (for now).

After those, I am planning to work on a fledgling novel and later still, maybe do something with my fear of nonfiction.

What’s a good day for you?

A good day for me involves a lot of walking, great food, writing, reading and time with my family. Throw some friend time in there too. And it is sunny and warm. And some time by a large body of water. That is kind of a perfect day. But if I have some of these, even one of them, plus nothing too terrible happens, it is a good day.

Where’s home for you? How long have you lived there? What do you like about it? How is it changing? How does it compare to other places you’ve lived?

Home is now Chicago. We have been living here for almost three years now, which means that I got a little time to love the place before the pandemic. We love it. I love it as a city. I love downtown and the neighborhoods. I love the lake, it is so beautiful and its dimensions trip me up. I love the long lakeshore path extending north and south. I am astonished that somehow I ended up in a beach town without realizing it beforehand. We go to the beach so much when it is warm. There are vibrant city beaches and also very quiet beaches, all not too far away. I love it when it is warm so much, but also when it is really cold. I love the buildings. I love the parks and forest preserves, the vegetation, prairie and flatness. I am also so happy with the wonderful writers I have met here. I am only beginning to get out there, but so far the writing community has been really welcoming. It is all still kind of new, but it feels like home.

I am from Brasilia, Brazil, which is an interesting, trippy place, permeated with a 1960s imagination of the future. (I recommend Clarice Lispector’s essays on it and also this video by Reggie Watts.) Chicago feels connected to it in my experience, in weird ways. The architecture and visible midcentury influences. The presence of a lake (though they are very different lakes), the flatness and some of the vegetation (especially when compared to the East Coast, where I lived before Chicago).

Before this, I lived in NYC and NJ (NYC metro area) for a little over a decade. Before that, Los Angeles for several years. Before that, Brisbane, Australia. But the latter was a long time ago. I loved them all, but I am happy to be in Chicago now. I think it is right for this time.

Spent any time in Brooklyn? If so, when and where? Share with us your experiences, impressions, etc.

Yes, I love Brooklyn and have so many friends I love there, and a lot of good memories. I often stay there when I visit. When I lived in NYC, home was Queens (which always felt right for me). But I lived really close to the Pulaski Bridge at some point, so I would walk across it into Greenpoint almost every weekend, which was lovely. When I think of places where I have fond memories over the years, some areas that come to mind: Greenpoint, Gowanus, walking across the Manhattan Bridge (which I somehow did/do relatively often), Crown Heights. I have walked around in Brooklyn a lot, but I have a hard time with geography (in general). When I need to get places in NYC, if I have time, I walk, even when the walk is several hours long. (I often walk from LaGuardia Airport to wherever I have to be in Brooklyn or Manhattan when I visit.)

What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that where you live? Why or why not?

A poetry community is so important to me. It can be so nurturing. This is true in a personal/life way (having people who understand an important part of your soul without you even having to attempt to explain it, etc.). It is also true as an artist/writer: the work of others, in person, off the page, can be so stimulating and nurturing. Encountering work within a community is such an alive, vibrant way to encounter poetry. I think it adds to the experience of encountering it on the page, creating a lovely alchemy that is very stimulating to me. I have only been in Chicago (outside of the pandemic) for a short time, but have already had some wonderful experiences in community here. There is a lot happening in Chicago and I feel lucky to be here.

Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.

Audre Lorde. Cynthia Manick (the generosity in her beautiful work and as a person). Amazingly talented friends Emily Lee Luan and Sydney Jin Choi. So many more who have an intersection with Brooklyn, I am sure. I have had this impulse lately to re-engage with Walt Whitman. We’ll see where that takes me.

Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?

I have been lucky to be advised by the brilliant John Keene, for fiction, but I am such a fan of his amazing work as a poet, translator and thinker. I was lucky to have had what I think was the best poetry class in my life with Cathy Park Hong on poetry and the avant-garde during my MFA. Rigoberto González has always been so generous (I felt so welcomed in the poetry side of things during my MFA, even though I was there for fiction). I have been lucky and have had the chance to work with wonderful poets in conferences and workshops, including Marilyn Nelson, Sidney Wade and Carl Phillips. I have also benefited greatly just being in the orbit of wonderful poets and people in different settings, like Roberto Carlos Garcia, all my MFA friends, editors of journals and presses. Not all of them were officially mentors, but I am grateful for everything I have learned and learn from them.

Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.

I just came across Kevin Madrigal Galindo’s Hell/a Mexican and I am so excited about it. I love how smart and funny and beautiful the poems are. His attention to language. Also, the art/design. Also loving Anthony Warnke’s Super Worth It (again, that humor and sadness). Also I. S. Jones’s Spells of My Name. These are all chapbooks. I have a thing for chapbooks. I love them.

What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?

So many. I can’t even wrap my mind around the size of my “want to read” list. I try not to think about it because it makes me anxious about life being too short. I just remind myself I will never be bored.

Describe your reading process. Do you read one book at a time, cover to cover, or dip in and out of multiple books? Do you plan out your reading in advance or discover your next read at random? Do you prefer physical books or digital texts? Are you a note-taker?

My reading process is very chaotic. I always read more than one book at once. Sometimes around ten or even more. I read some books in one sitting, some I take years, even maybe approaching a decade (even if I like the book). I plan out in advance that I want to read a book and buy it, but when I actually pick it up is a bit random. I read paper books and ebooks and listen to audiobooks. Sometimes I have all three formats (usually when I travel, halfway reading a paper book and then having to finish it as an ebook). I am always reading, but I am not always finishing books. I love reading theory and academic books in bed. They are super interesting and I actually enjoy the convoluted, jargon-ridden language, both because I find it fun (how language stretches) and also because it helps put me to sleep. Sometimes it takes me a whole year to finish one of these theory books, because I read a page or so and fall asleep. But I do love them! I find it harder to fall asleep if I am reading novels, short stories, poems, etc. I love walking with audiobooks on, especially in the morning. It is one of the things I most enjoy. I think listening to audiobooks and walking as the sun rises would be part of a heaven designed for me, if there was such a thing.

What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?

I want to do the repetition you find of final and initial lines in a crown of sonnets, but without the sonnets (necessarily). Something like what Clarice Lispector did in The Passion According to G.H. (she did it in prose; it is a novel). I think I want to do that in a short story, maybe. I want to try translating some poetic forms into prose and see what happens. As of recently, I have also gotten the urge to write a contrapuntual. I also want to keep playing with how traditional forms may be used or transformed in bilingual poems.

Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?

Because I am so disorganized and my life is so chaotic, I am not very particular about where I read or write. I am happy doing either anywhere. Quiet, noisy, messy, organized. Anywhere. If I can have a little window of time, I am happy with most spaces. I do prefer to write on a computer (versus phone, paper, etc.) if I can. I find it easier. But I can use other methods too.

What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?

The Manhattan Bridge, the Brooklyn Museum, BAM, the Center for Fiction and the area around it, many of the parks, following Atlantic Ave to get places. I am great at loving places and terrible at knowing where they are and where I have been.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

  I celebrate the minute

and what I can

   see squinting

  and you second

 ing me

trying to

  hold

 water

   light

    years

    between   our   hands

  the river    parting    around

   us   standing   still

our   hands   in

time

  the physical

   ity of it all

    flowering

  for every

   infinite

    simal

   photon

    dew

   of me

as good

 here as anywhere

anywhen with you