Interview with Olivia Lehman
Rappahannock Review Poetry Editors: One of our favorite parts of “I Time Travel” is how the title leads into the poem, plunging the reader directly into the narrative, and how the enjambment pushes us forward. How do you approach building momentum and breaking lines when you write?
Olivia Lehman: Thank you! I tend to take a line-by-line approach. When I break a line, I look at what words will stand alone. Can they stand on their own? What do they say by themselves? Do the first and last words behave how I mean them to? Momentum can build from those breaks feeling natural– as in, where a sentence or thought might typically end in conversation, or through resistance to the natural. I like that resistance. It creates suspense and playfulness, which I love in poems.
RR: We were compelled by the shifting memories and flashbacks, which create an effortless, dream-like flow. Can you talk about how you navigate time in your work?
OL: Time appears in a lot of my work through writing about the seasons, holidays, weddings, funerals. When I see something—in this poem it’s a stranger’s moth tattoo—that connects me to the past I often feel drawn back to that moment. I follow the tether back and time collapses. I wanted it to collapse in the poem and share the sensation of mundane, yet powerful, time travel.
RR: The planting of the tomato at the end is a wonderful surprise. How did you land on that image? Were there any others you considered?
OL: No, I never considered another. The tomato is a true story. At the time I was seeing a woman who loved plants and she surprised me one morning by bringing a tomato plant over. She brought a bag of dirt, a pot to re-pot it, and told me the species and everything. It was barely nine a.m. and I remember thinking wow, this is a poem if I’ve ever known one. It was such a nourishing gift, an act of love that would last (or perish) independent of our connection to each other—just as the memory would. It was the perfect moment and image to end the poem.
RR: Your wonderful chapbook, Alternate Summer Where No One Dies, was published with Giallo in 2021. Are you working on any new projects?
OL: Thank you for saying so! I am currently revising and writing poems for a full-length manuscript. What a beast! I have a tentative title right now, but it seems like bad luck to share so early. My new poems are very much about entering adulthood in our weird, dystopian times. As of now, “I Time Travel” is in it.
RR: Do you have a green thumb? If so, what is your favorite plant to grow?
OL: Ha, absolutely not! I love plants but am not great at keeping them alive. I forget about them. One day when I have room for a garden I would like to grow squash. Maybe it’s the fall talking, but I bet they would taste incredible.
Olivia Lehman’s work appears in Issue 10.1 here: