10 Questions for Joy Ladin

Blogger: 
Beth Derr

My therapist says I’m afraid of vanishing.
Last week his ceiling caved in, ending our session
in a shower of words and water.
I’m serious. I’m always serious
when I talk about therapists and cave-ins.

--from “Flourishing” which appears in the Spring 2017 issue (Volume 58, Issue 1)

Tell us about one of the first pieces you’ve written.

The first poem I committed to finishing as an adult was called “The Akedah,” a retelling of the Biblical story of Abraham's near-sacrifice of his son, Isaac. Like so many Jewish poets, I took that story as a form for understanding my relationship with my father.

What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?

Emily Dickinson, Cesar Vallejo and Pablo Neruda. I don't know if they influenced my style much, but they taught me, and keep teaching me, what poetry can and should be.

What other professions have you worked in?

I've never been a professional writer, in the sense of supporting myself by writing. I teach for a living, and before teaching, spent ten years working at The State Bar of California to support my writing habit.

What did you want to be when you were young?

I wanted (but didn't expect) to someday feel alive, and be who I truly was. Since I learned to write, I felt (for no reason I can remember) that I already was a poet.

Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?

No. I don't have a strong sense of place.

Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?

I had to give that up once I started having children. I prefer to write in the mornings and lying down, but I will write whenever and wherever I can.

Who typically gets the first read of your work?

I have a friend who is endlessly patient about reading my work. But nobody gets a first read; I don't show work to anyone till I'm convinced that it is at least slightly worth reading, and it takes a lot of drafts to convince me.

If you could work in another art form what would it be?

I love music, and only reluctantly gave up trying to play when, in the mid-80s, I realized that my musical imagination was quite limited. But someday, I may give it another try.

What are you working on currently? 

I'm working on publicizing my eighth poetry collection, Fireworks in the Graveyard, due out from Headmistress Press in September, and on finalizing the manuscript of new and selected poems, due out from Sheep Meadow Press in December.

What are you reading right now? 

I'm in mid-semester, so lots of student drafts, and, alas, I have become a political junkie, constantly reading about the scary state of the nation, and of democracy.

Purchase our current issue (Volume 58, Issue 1) here to read Joy Ladin’s poem "Flourishing".


JOY LADIN is the author of seven books of poetry, including Lambda Literary Award finalists Impersonation and Transmigration. Her memoir, Through the Door of Life, was a 2012 National Jewish Book Award finalist. Her work has been recognized with a National Endowment of the Arts creative writing fellowship and a Fulbright Scholarship, among other honors. She holds the Gottesman Chair in English at Yeshiva University.