5 Questions with Alison Luterman (interviewed by Madeline Farr)

1. How has your writing style and/or perspective on writing changed since the publication of The Largest Possible Life?

The Largest Possible Life was born out of crisis—getting divorced in my mid-thirties, having my whole world fall apart and my heart broken, and then miraculously finding my way to jobs where I got to work with other broken people. In my case, this took the form of jobs as an H.I.V. test counselor at S.F. General Hospital, and Glide Memorial Church and Urban Health Study. I feel like I was studying catastrophe and addiction and resilience and death and rebirth during that time, an intensive course, me and other people. The Largest Possible Life is a document of that, and I feel very tenderly toward it. The poems I’m working on now are probably more formally sophisticated, and I’m not in that kind of raw broken-open place currently. I'm more aware of my tendency to over-write. I’m more critical of my work now, and I’m more interested in developing technique and polish than I was before.

2. What are you working on right now?

I just finished writing a musical called The Chain, and I am working on poems for a fourth book of poetry. In my personal life I have been exploring the sacred feminine, and I’m wanting to center this next book around that theme, but we’ll see. Books have a way of taking on a life of their own!

3. What poet (contemporary or of the past) should we all be reading?

We should all be reading one poet who calls to us because they echo our own inner landscape, and one poet who is completely different from us, whose work challenges and stretches and baffles us. That said, I find myself drawn back again and again to Tess Gallagher’s poetry—she combines a native mysticism and a relationship with myth and landscape with long complex narrative poems that are emotionally and aesthetically pleasing, with magical little lyrics. I think she’s the complete package, and not enough attention has been paid to her work.

4. What is your advice for young writers?

Develop an exercise routine—yoga, running, swimming, dancing—and do something physical every day, for your mental health as well as your physical health. It’s not cute to be a drug addict. Quit smoking, it’s disgusting. Drink a lot of water. Floss. Try to figure out a way to handle the making a living problem—at least find a way to to get decent health insurance. It’s okay to have to work a day job. And patience—this is a long-haul deal.

5. Where/when do you like to write, or do your best writing?

I’m not picky about location—I’ve written good things on airplanes and in cafes or in my study—wherever. The main thing is having a little cushion of downtime so that the deeper feelings and images can emerge. I like to warm up by reading poetry for half an hour or so beforehand—that helps enormously. Morning or night doesn’t matter to me. Also: it’s okay not to be writing for a while. Sometimes it’s just time to be living and quietly gestating.