Works with Soul: Adrianne Smith

by Keira Havens October 19, 2011

Adrianne Smith is Ruminate's 2011 Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize winner.  Originally from Las Cruces, New Mexico, she moved to Jackson, Mississippi, to study art and creative writing at Belhaven University. Adrianne graduated this spring, and now manages a Chinese restaurant to pay the bills. She was awarded honorable mention in the 2009 Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize and second place for poetry in the 2010 Southern Literary Festival. You can read the winning poem in Issue 21: Grief, and purchase a limited edition letterpress broadside of the poem.

R: Naomi Shihab Nye, finalist judge for this year's prize, has a great quote: "...poems hide. In the bottoms of our shoes, they are sleeping. They are the shadows drifting across our ceilings the moment before we wake up. What we have to do is live in a way that lets us find them.” How do your poems find you? Or maybe a better question is, what is your favorite pair of shoes?

AS: What a perfect quote. When I write, it’s all about not wearing shoes; if I tread lightly the poems won't hear me approaching. I have to sneak up on them, otherwise I try too hard to write something "important." I read when I write; I will pull stacks of books off the shelves and flip through them. Usually I don't read for any purpose besides becoming familiar with words. Its like wading into water--it takes awhile to get used to the idea of being wet. I write down phrases first--a rough outline of images and ideas--and then piece them together later. The more successful poems have been written backwards, except for the last line; the last line is always written last. I'm always trying to find a real zinger.

R: I love that you describe the process as wading into water— "In Bridgewater, my room" is a poem that flows with melancholy: the river, the train, the words to "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot." The reader gets to trail their fingers in the water with you. You bring that same experience to "On Home" and "El Mission San Esteban del Rey," but here the reader feels grains of sand sifting through their fingers. Does the southwest hold a special sorrow for you?

AS: I think it is significance rather than sorrow, though there is something sorrowful about the desert--it is so sparse. Everything that grows or exists in the desert has to have a level of tenacity to survive, and I'm always amazed by how much grows and lives there. I moved to New Mexico when I was eleven, and it took me a while to appreciate it. The beauty of it is so subtle it's easy to miss. The Southwest has come to represent so much to me--it's my home (though I don't live there now), it's a place where cultures meet and a new culture is forming, it's geographically diverse (snow-capped mountains, lava flows, bottomless lakes, vast deserts).

When I first moved out West, the only friends I could make only spoke Spanish; we were immigrants together. I didn't and still don't speak Spanish, so that first year I was silent; I just listened to my friends speak. When I read poetry I like, most of it comes out of the Southwest. I'll read something and think, 'wow, I know exactly what is being said here' and it's a poem by Jimmy Santiago Baca or, well, Naomi Nye. The Southwest is the language I try to speak in.

R: Thank you for taking the time to see that subtle beauty and share it with us. You know, spending any amount of time in silent retreat brings a new perspective for a lot of people. How did that year of silence, in the midst of experiencing a new culture and place, shape your outlook and your journey forward?

AS: I think it was good to just be quiet and observe a culture; it made the Chicano culture  mystical--something I could never belong to, but would always respect and long to join. I am always waiting to learn enough of the language to join in the conversation.

R: Silence is a rare gift today, but we have to say we are grateful you've decided to speak with us here and through your poems. Thank you Adie, for joining in conversation with us--we wish you all the best in the future!

Adrianne Smith is the winner of Ruminate's 2011 Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize.  Her poems "In Bridgewater, my room," "On home," and "El Mission San Esteban del Rey" appear in Issue 21: Grief.

Keira Havens
Keira Havens


Keira Havens grew up in Hawaii where she was fascinated by flowers, bugs, and the ocean. After receiving her bachelor's in molecular biophysics and biochemistry from the Illinois Institute of Technology in 2004, she accepted a commission in the United States Air Force. She left active duty to pursue a degree in a synthetic biology laboratory and received her MS from Colorado State University in 2014. Along the way, she has volunteered and worked in nonprofit marketing and outreach. She joined Ruminate’s team in 2010 and currently serves as Ruminate's Marketing and Outreach Director.

1 Response

Cynthia B. Smith
Cynthia B. Smith

February 17, 2017

Well, I am unabashedly proud of my daughter, Adrianne, and her poetic writings and I am fascinated to read her insights into her working process.

I enjoy “getting to know her” from a different perspective as a beautiful young lady and young adult, who sadly, from my perspective, lives so far away from Las Cruces, New Mexico.

We are very proud of you, Adie!

Write on! (corny I know)

Mom and Dad Smith

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