The Lightning Room with Allison LaSorda

–Interview by Diana Clarke

Allison LaSorda’s poem “Playdate,” from the March issue, gets intimate with the iamb and an unnamed partner. It’s pretty hot.

1. “Playdate” is so dense and chewy, it feels like it must have taken ages to get just right, yet in its compactness the poem feels naturally a whole. How did you go about tweaking the thing into place? How long did it take?

I started with the first line, “you’ve got me where you want me,” which initially felt kind of flat and familiar, and wanted to pull it apart for meaning. The poem grew more in the direction of a creepy nursery rhyme as each line came out. I left about a month before doing any edits, just letting it sink in and feel comfortable for me, but really, the poem is very close to what I initially wrote down. I wanted to work quickly and go more by sound and playfulness rather than overthinking, which I usually tend towards.

2. On a related note, I was struck and delighted by your unusual choice to write with formal constraints that de-formalize (become casual?) over the course of the poem: rhymes get progressively more slanted; iambic lines reshape their pattern. How do you think about structure in the rest of your life, if you do?

I am delighted that you were delighted! I also find it neat that you saw the structure degrade over the poem; this is kind of how structure works in the rest of my life. I used to avoid structure, personally, as I worried that rigidity precludes being spontaneous, but having certain routines gives me a feeling of more freedom. Knowing I’ve accomplished one thing on my list makes me feel okay about following an impulse or failing with everything else.

3. Since the poem coyly suggests sex, I couldn’t help thinking of constraints in that context. Yet attempting to curtail or control libido seems futile in the last lines. The narrator laments to their lover, “Playing with you is like teaching/a humpback whale how not to breach.” Why bother?

I ask “why bother” a lot in my writing. I’m going to use the end of Annie Hall to partially answer this question, extending a consideration of sex to intimate relationships in general. It’s something like: A guy walks into a psychiatrist’s office and says, Hey doctor, my brother’s crazy! He thinks he’s a chicken. Then the doctor says, Why don’t you turn him in? Then the guy says, I would, but I need the eggs. I guess that’s how I feel about relationships. They’re totally crazy, irrational, and absurd, but we keep going through it because we need the eggs.

4. Without context, the title, “Playdate,” suggests childhood and innocence, but by the middle of the poem—particularly the line “left to dry white astride my thighs”—it’s clear that the poem is not concerned with innocence. (Though sex often suggests procreation, the specter of a child.) While reading, I was reminded of the way “play” is used in the kink community to discuss sexual encounters, and I’ve often thought about sex as a kind of make-believe for adults. How did you go about choosing the title?

I tend to choose titles quickly. I go on my nerve. Sometimes my nerve strikes the right concept, but more often not. I wanted there to be an element of innocence to the feel of the poem, not so much in the words themselves. So that desired effect became tougher for me when trying to find a title that serves as a window into the poem. You’re definitely onto my ideas about “playdate,” which I guess were buried there somewhere. In my ideal relationship, there’s always playful, friendly energy, and hopefully sincerity is in there, too, even if things get complicated or passive.

5. “What wants are left are paltry”—this line in particular felt almost Shakespearean, so riddled with consonance and rhythm. What or who do you read to find that kind of delicious sound?

I do love Shakespeare—I’m alone in that, I know. I probably spend more time focusing on the limits of language than on its possibilities, for what it’s worth. I’ve been reading mostly short fiction lately, but continue to be gripped by poets like Matthea Harvey, Karen Solie, Frederick Seidel, and Brenda Shaughnessy.

6. When you’re stuck, what do you do to get unstuck?

My solutions include reading, and reading some more. When I get tired of that, I relax into some great television that takes me into another place, with its own language, like Deadwood. I should say, though, that I feel like I’m constantly getting stuck and unstuck.