Lisa Zimmerman was born in Denver, Colorado. Her father was a U.S. Army officer so her family moved often and besides living in the U.S. they also lived in Italy, the Dominican Republic, and Belgium where she graduated from high school. While studying at Colorado State University Lisa met her husband. She earned her M.F.A. from Washington University in St. Louis and has published both fiction and poetry in many magazines and anthologies. Her most recent poetry collection is The Light at the Edge of Everything (Anhinga Press, 2008). Her chapbook Snack Size: Poems is forthcoming later this fall from Mello Press. Lisa is an assistant professor of poetry at the University of Northern Colorado.
Lisa, we know you are a hard working professor at the University of Northern Colorado. Do you have any writing projects that you are currently working on?
I am completing my third full-length poetry collection which I hope to put into some kind of order before the end of the year.
How / When / Why did you begin writing poetry?
I like to answer that question by paraphrasing what Alice Walker said: I began to write poetry as a child. I did not know then that I was saving my life.
My early poems rhymed because I was brought up on Dr. Seuss and my father reciting poems out loud, like “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” By high school I was writing free verse poems and a lot of them were political. I already cared about the environment and social issues. My home life was turbulent. Writing in my teenage years was suicide prevention.
What inspires you now to write poetry? / Why is poetry important to you?
I am inspired whenever an image from the world, or from memory, finds a cadence in my body—that’s often the only way the lines get to the page.
Poetry is spiritual nourishment for me. I read poems daily. I have memorized many poems just to have them available; they keep me company when I’m driving to work and don’t want the clamor of radio news, or when I’m standing in an endless line at the post office at Christmastime I can recite them in my mind.
Do you have a daily / weekly writing routine? Can you tell us about it?
I keep a daily gratitude journal and an image notebook. I think it was Ginsberg who said to “notice what you notice and write it down.” Some of my best writing has come when I’m writing with my students. I thank them for that. I’m also part of a writing group with 4 other serious poets. Because of our schedules, we only meet every couple of months but the workshops are invaluable.
When and / or why did you first consider yourself as a successful poet?
I think I considered myself a poet when my first chapbook was published. But I didn’t feel “successful” until Rick Campbell, the publisher of Anhinga Press and a terrific poet, chose my manuscript for the Violet Reed Haas Poetry Award. I had been a bridesmaid in a number of contests before then so it meant a lot to me to finally win one. I felt deeply acknowledged and grateful when I read his judge’s comments.
Who are some of your favorite poets?
Always Rilke. And Rumi. Poets who influenced me: Jane Kenyon, Sharon Olds, Lucille Clifton, Merwin. Current favorite poets: my friend Tania Rochelle for her flint and stunning images, Dean Young for his quirky brilliance, Tony Hoagland for his humor, Jane Hirshfield for her deep quiet, Gregory Orr for his ecstatic verses—I could go on.
What advice do you have for aspiring poets?
Read, read, read. Pay attention. Let the world talk to you. Write it down. Revise. Trust your process, even during the silent times. Make friends with other writers so you can get honest feedback.
Lisa, thank you so much. Best wishes from all of us at Four Ties.
You can find more of Lisa’s work at the following sites.