GC: Seeing the outer edges as you do, with so much humor, were you always that way as a child?
NA: To a certain extent, yes. I have always lived on the outer edge. I have always been a little bit of rule-bender, or someone who resists the flow. As a girl, I developed this rule or habit—that if someone told me not to do or say something, I did it. Or rather, I often did it. (I did use some judgment.) Good things resulted. So I continued with this habit.
That’s how The Book of Orgasms began. A professor told me not to use the word, orgasm, in a poem, and not to write about orgasms. Never mind that my orgasms were messengers from the divine . . .
This habit is also how, or maybe why, I met David Lehman. My college advisor despised David and told me never to take a class with him. (You know how English departments can be.) Before my advisor told me that, I had no intention of taking another poetry class, but, in an instant, I changed my mind. I left my advisor’s office and walked straight up these creaky wooden stairs and turned to the right, right into David’s office. I had never met him before. Are you Dr. Lehman? I asked in my polite voice, looking down at his desk at a copy of The Selected Poems of Frank O’Hara. He blinked a few times and said, Yes, may I help you? I blurted out that my advisor had just suggested I take an independent study with him. (I think he knew I was lying.) That was the beginning of a long mentorship and friendship. I will add that if it had not been for David Lehman, I would not be a poet today. It was David who said, in his tactful way, that I was odd. Or different. And that being odd is a gift, not a curse.