10 Questions for L.A. Johnson

Blogger: 
Amal Zaman

“The foam line of the lake breaks into ice.
I can feel the weight of a flood,

the granite of you sealing together.

Still, the lake water is all quiet, no smell
of rain. No sense of struggle or lungs folding...”

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

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

I started writing when I was very young, so it’s hard for me to remember specifically. I wrote a lot of poems about the moon and its shadows. I didn’t know then why we see the moon in phases and I was fascinated by its beauty and inscrutability.

What did you want to be when you were young?

I wanted to be a veterinarian, so that I could take care of sick animals. I wanted any job that allowed me to hang out with dogs, really.  

What inspired you to write this piece?

In this poem, I enter the imaginative space of the real place of Sand Harbor in Lake Tahoe, one of my favorite parks that surround the lake. The lake is so deep that it doesn’t freeze like other lakes, but at its shore I have seen the water break like sheets of glass. Lake Tahoe is my favorite place, and one that revealed to me many things I didn’t know about winter—growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, I did not really experience ice or snow until I went to Lake Tahoe for the first time in my early twenties. Due to this, the lake and its surrounding mountains hold extreme amounts of wonder and mystery for me, and when I think of it, I do so with deep emotion. I often like to enter this place imaginatively (and thus, emotionally), when I am writing, as I can bring together my feelings of wonder about that place with other experiences and questions. 

Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?

I don’t like listening to music when I’m writing, but I like walking and listening to music to take breaks from editing. I also love listening to the radio when I’m driving, and I often come up with titles and other bits and bobs for poems while I’m listening / mishearing the lyrics to pop music.

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

California is my be-all-end-all of both real and imagined places. I am die-hard and poppy-wild for this place. Many of my poems invoke places in Northern California, where I spent most of my life, but my more recent poems are influenced by the strange landscapes of Southern California, where I’m now living, splitting my time between Los Angeles and San Diego. Although my poems often invoke places in California, they typically do so in an imaginative, dreamlike way. As mentioned, “Auroras” is loosely set in the landscape of Lake Tahoe in winter, but it is also not Lake Tahoe in winter; it is the lucid dream of the place blended with the real of elsewhere.

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

I am a night person and it is my favorite time to think and write. I like the quiet and the darkness; I am comforted by the peace of the without-light. I like to write in bed or otherwise reclined, usually with the window open for some night air. Night air is different from day air. In the dark, I am not myself and my body, but merely a part of the dark, a factor. Night gives me a freedom to create that I don’t experience during the daylight hours. I can’t imagine writing a poem during the day or, frankly, writing anything significant during that time. Even now, I am answering these questions in the still hour after midnight.

Who typically gets the first read of your work?

I am extremely fortunate to be in the creative writing and literature Ph.D. program at USC where I can bring newborn poems to workshop on a regular basis for my brilliant peers to read and critique. For most of my work, however, my trusted reader and friend, the genius-poet Laura Romeyn, sees the poems for both their first read and for their billionth read.

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

Maybe metalworking, if I had any sort of physical artistic gift. I am somewhat obsessed with different types of metals and scientific processes at-large, and the art of it seems like a blend of these alchemical interests.

What are you working on currently?

I’m currently working on completing my first full-length poetry manuscript, titled Radioactivity, as well as working on finishing the editorial for my poetry chapbook, Little Climates, forthcoming from Bull City Press in late fall 2017.

What are you reading right now?

I like to keep things fresh by popping in and out of a lot of different books. I’ve recently been trying to go back to read the first books by poets I admire, including Tracy K. Smith’s The Body’s Question and Marie Howe’s The Good Thief. I also read a lot of fiction, new and old, currently working on Marguerite Duras’s The Lover and Han Kang’s The Vegetarian.

Purchase our current issue (Volume 58, Issue 1) here to read L.A. Johnson's poem "Auroras".


L.A. JOHNSON received her MFA from Columbia University and is currently pursuing her PhD in literature and creative writing from the University of Southern California, where she is a Provost’s Fellow. Her poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in the Southern Review, Antioch Review, Iowa Review, Indiana Review, Phoebe, Third Coast, and other journals. She lives in Los Angeles.