- Olivia Van Guinn
An Interview with Adrienne Adams
Updated: Oct 23, 2022
As part of our brand new interview series, Olivia Van Guinn interviews Issue 79 contributor Adrienne Adams. Read the full interview below.
My coffee shop conversation with my friend, Adrienne Adams, began with a reintroduction, as a writer reintroduces herself whenever new writing is finished.
“Tell me about yourself,” I said.
And she began. “I’m an artist and a poet, and my first love is dance. When I got accepted into an art school, it was one of the highlights of my life; I wanted to do art because it was hard. I’m a gardener dealing with reconciliation, ancestry, the truth of what it feels like to be a woman–in a feminine body. When I grew up, there wasn’t a lot of space for that. I started Woolf’s Voices in 2013,” she continued, in reference to her community event series hosted at Shelf Life Books. “I did that for nine years–for seven by myself before I burnt out and started a collective, and starting a collecting was the most amazing experience ever. The purpose of that was to create a safe space for feminine-identified people to put forth work in a poetry community. People have been telling me to focus on my own work forever, so when my mom died I finally did that because I had no room for other people anymore. I’ve learned from so many writers but I’ve always focused on my own practice.”
It was evening in Kensington as we shared our conversation, and the sun was setting on a breezy autumn day, though fairy lights lit the cafe’s second floor. Sitting by the window high above the road, we watched the bustling at the bar next door from a softly glowing, lightly humming perch.
“For someone who’s picking up an Adrienne Adams story for the first time,” I asked, “tell me what they’ll find.”
She thought about this for a moment. “I really like deep metaphors. I really like visuals. People have told me how visual my poetry is. The visuals, the images, the description. I also like there to be a certain amount of rawness, a.k.a. realness. It’s therapeutic to read something that strikes a note. Something well crafted can be soothing like a lullaby. I’ve been reading Christina Rosetti and that has that in it. There’s a rawness there, the mouthfeel and the way it comes off your tongue. Emily Dickinson, that’s like a master beyond belief. You’ll also find grief around my mother’s illness and death, my matrilineal line, grief around breakups and relationships, the legacy of being a settler in land that’s not our own. The whole history of colonization.”
“What’s the best sandwich?” I asked.
“Salmon lox with caramelized onions on a sesame seed bagel,” said Adrienne. “Or a really good grilled cheese.”
Just before the start of the conversation, I had ordered a coffee and Adrienne ordered a tea, and the drinks kept our corner of the chilly cafe warm.
“I love metaphors,” she continued. “One of my favourite projects in art school was visually representing four different metaphors. There’s such beauty in a metaphor that can really cut to the heart of things. There’s beauty in alliteration and consonants too. That’s sonic beauty, and I love metaphors because you get the visual beauty. Metaphors provide a means of psychological survival. It shows resilience because you’re transforming something. It’s magic. It’s transformative.”
“If you could be an animal, which one would you be?” I asked.
“A butterfly. Or maybe a deer. Or maybe a deer butterfly! Or a deer dragonfly!”
By then, the sun had about gone down completely, and as the outside disappeared, the inside of the coffee shop grew smaller, yet cozier. The fairy lights were made for this time of day; they gleamed like floating candles. From one writer to another, I had to ask with openness and honesty, “What separates a good piece of writing from a great piece of writing?”
For a long moment, she thought hard about this. “A good piece of writing engages you in a story,” she said. “It’s fun. You don’t realize you’re reading. But a great piece of writing occasionally takes you out of that space and you ironically realize you’re reading because you’re hit with a great metaphor and you have to stop and think about it for three days. For me, it’s the difference between fun writing and deep writing. It doesn’t have to make you cry, it just has to make you think and feel. If I think about the novels I like the best, there are ones that are really funny, and there are ones like Jane Eyre where you can separate any passage and it would be a poem, or a philosophical essay.”
Fascinated with her thoughts on writing, stories, and life, I had to ask before the end of the interview how to connect with Adrienne’s art further.
“You will find my art at Adrienneadamsartandpoetry.com. My writing is in Fillingstation, NOD, Antilang, and others. All the links are on my website. I also have a painting at the children’s hospital, part of the bird series, and I have a mural I did with kids up at the Science Center.”
“What’s the best Halloween candy?” I asked.
“Fancy dark chocolate,” said Adrienne. “Or black licorice.”
As our interview was coming to a close and the baristas behind us were tidying up for the night, I asked if Adrienne had any final thoughts or messages that she wanted to put into the world, given the platform. For this, she came up with her answer easily.
“If you want to write, if you want to draw, if you want to dance–just do it. Most artists have a part time job and that is either a part time job or applying for grants. Very few working artists don’t also work. But do what you love. Life’s way too short not to do what’s important to you.”
Before expressing my thanks and parting ways for the night, I asked for some reading recommendations important to Adrienne. Her first recommendations were Fail Safe by Nikki Sheppy, and Terrible Blooms by Melissa Stein.