Most of you are likely no stranger to Ada Limón. She was named 24th poet laureate of the United States back in July, becoming the first Latina to do so. I decided to talk about her here (despite her popularity) because her poems provide a respite from the cold weather we’ll be facing soon—critics have often described them so:
“Limón’s poems are like fires: charring the page, but leaving a smoke that remains past the close of the book.” (The Millions)
“A poet whose verse exudes warmth and compassion” (Los Angeles Review of Books)
The intensity and directness of Limón’s poetry resonates with me. There’s no shortage of rich imagery in her work, yet I never lose sight of her poem’s core message.
As I begin a new chapter here in Ann Arbor, identity and relationships have been on my mind a lot. The poems I’ve felt closest to recently are the ones handling those subjects.
Her poems are best digested in the larger context of their collection, so do check them out if you feel inspired to do so. All the poems featured in this post come from her book “Bright Dead Things”, a finalist for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. The collection centers around Limón’s move from New York City to Kentucky for her love of a man—and the rewilding that came along with it. The racehorses, open fields, metal, and the moon to make us feel like we’re out there with her, all while exploring themes of death, identity, and how we carry on through loss.
Despite the wide Kentucky acreage, some part of Limón feels trapped. She drowns her “happily unaccounted for” self along with the joys of a bustling life in Brooklyn:
After that, when the water would act weird,
spurt, or gurgle, I’d imagine a body, a woman, a me
just years ago, freely single, happily unaccounted for,
at the lowest curve of the water tower.
Yes, and over and over,
I’d press her limbs down with a long pole
until she was still.
These lines (from The Last Move) so accurately illustrate the sacrifices we make for love and how opposing desires exist at the same time. In a world where so much is shoehorned into binary categories, Ada Limón allows all of her feelings, thoughts, and ideas to coexist at once.
Limón’s poems always feel as if they’re approaching the brink, like there’s tension hovering above the surface. She so effortlessly captures what is, to me, the essence of the human experience.