An appreciation for U.S. Poet Laureate Ada Limón ahead of her visit to Lexington


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Ada Limon poses for a portrait on Monday, May 16, 2022, at Limon’s house in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo provided by Michael Clubb | Lexington Herald-Leader

Karrington Garland, Reporter

In preparation for the current U.S. Poet Laureate Ada Limón’s upcoming reading at Transylvania University on Thursday, Nov. 10, I bought three of her most recent poetry books, “The Carrying” (2018), “Bright Dead Things” (2015) and her newest collection “The Hurting Kind” (2022).

“The Carrying” won the 2018 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry, and “Bright Dead Things” was a finalist for the same award back in 2015. Limón has six poetry collections out so far, and her latest one, “The Hurting Kind,” is my favorite of her writings.

Limon, though from Sonoma, California, currently lives in Lexington, Kentucky, where she hosts her poetry podcast “The Slowdown” and does most of her writing.

Ever since I have gotten into poetry, I have had a varying number of poets that I follow steadily and with a loyalty I am surprised by. I treat them like musicians really and when they release their latest chapbooks, it is like an album release I am anxiously anticipating. I must go out and buy their works and then sit and digest their vernacular whole.

With Limón, however, my following of her work has been different.

I first became aware of Limón’s writing a couple summers ago, back in 2018, when her poem Late Summer after a Panic Attack” made its way around the small poetry Twitter community I follow. Her poem was eye-catching, intense and spoke to my subconscious and my mental health journey more than any poem I had been reading at the time.

Limón has a way of speaking about her own mental health and her sometimes troubling subconscious in such a beautifully blunt and unapologetic way.

I am very attracted to the writings of women who are not scared of being seen as crazy, stereotypically emotionally fragile or bitter for saying how they truly feel about their own life experiences and the ways in which they process their traumas or everyday things.

Limón does a great job of embracing the complexities of her womanhood and articulating them to her audience in her writing through her use of imagery in connection to nature, horses and the places in which she is present in.

A lot of Limón’s poems are odes to the places she has emotional connections to – Lexington being one of these places and spaces for her to sit with nature and be herself among it.

Limón’s poetry paints the Lexington area as a beautifully complicated landscape that emphasizes the importance of it in comparison to her relationship with the people who inhabit it along with her. It is almost as though nature and the outdoors in Lexington has an ethereal presence that makes it more important and all-residing over her intersectionality within the community itself.

Limón was named the 24th U.S. poet laurate in July 2022 and will end her tenure in 2023. During the time she was named the poet laureate, I was home for the summer and went to a local bookstore close to where I lived called Quail Ridge Books and bought “Bright Dead Things” (2015). I had been reading most of her poems on Poetry Foundation and prior to purchasing this book, and I was happy to finally have the opportunity to digest an entirety of one of her works.

When I came to Lexington this semester, I was surprised and pleased to discover from my poetry Professor Julia Johnson that Ada Limón would be doing a reading not too far from our campus in November.

When I heard the news, I immediately reserved a ticket. The chance of getting to see a current U.S. poet laureate read their work and for her to be a Lexington resident as well made this an opportunity I did not want to pass up. The event will take place in person at Transylvania University in the Mitchell Fine Arts Center from at 5:30 p.m. The event is free if you reserve a ticket and will be livestreamed as well.

I hope that Limón will read from her newest collection “The Hurting Kind” (2022). It is a beautiful journey through the seasons of nature as well as the pandemic and the isolation, anxiousness and longing for companionship we all universally experienced during it.

It starts off in spring and ends in winter. The poems in it embody the seasons they portray and add layers of self-analysis through the eyes of Limón, her voice and the characters, animals and landscapes she brings to life throughout.

In the book of poems, Limón pays keen attention to the world around her and routinely questions her place in it as well as how the world itself works and plays out in front of her eyes.

My favorite poems in “The Hurting Kind” are “And, too, the Fox” (page 11), where Limón observes the act of a fox hunting and the lazy candor in which it goes about catching its prey, all the while maintaining a minimal presence on earth and within the scene Limón sets.

“Fox lives on the edges,” Limón wrote. “pieces together a living out of leftovers and lazy rodents too slow for the telephone pole. / He takes only what he needs and lives a life some might call small.”

Her personification of the fox in this poem makes the reader wonder about their own place in the world in comparison to the ecosystems they may find themselves in.

“In the Shadow” (page 9) says, “It is what we do in order to care for things, make them ourselves/ our elders, our beloveds, our unborn. / But perhaps that is a lazy kind of love. Why/ can’t I just love the flower for being a flower? / How many flowers have I yanked to puppet asif it was easy for the world to make flowers?”

Limón describes the act of loving and caring for a flower in comparison to the act of loving and caring for those around her in this piece. Her questions throughout the book are earnest and almost childlike in their inquisition.

When Limón’s poems transition into summer, her poem that opens this section up, “It Begins With the Trees” (page 27-28), passionately brings into question the act of kissing and how the intertwining of the act emulates that of the trees and how we are reflections of them and they too are reflections of us.

“Two full cypress trees in the clearing intertwine in a way that almost makes/ them seem like one,” Limón wrote. “Until, at a certain angle/ from the blue blow-up pool I bought/ this summer to save my life, I see it/ is not only one tree but two, and they are/ kissing. They are kissing so tenderly it feels rude to watch … When did kissing become so dangerous? Or was it always so?”

This observation and unapologetic questioning of why the passion of kissing is stifled and the speaker’s yearning for intimacy is a feeling I think we all experienced during the pandemic. The need and desire for closeness, whether romantic, familial or platonic, Limón does an amazing job of capturing this feeling in this collection.

It is a great collection of pandemic poems that don’t blatantly call COVID-19 into character or questioning and instead focuses on the emotional, physical and relational impacts it had on us universally.

Pick up a copy of her book before her reading on Nov. 10 for a chance to get it signed! I know I will be taking all of the copies of her books that I own to get them signed.