We are humans: Ada Limón and the necessity of poetry


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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, Opinions Editor

Current U.S. Poet Laureate Ada Limón returned to her home of Lexington, Kentucky, Thursday, Nov. 10, to read from three books she wrote during her 12 year stay here. She read, “Bright Dead Things” (2015), “The Carrying” (2015) and her newest collection “The Hurting Kind” (2022) at Transylvania University’s Mitchell Fine Arts Center.

It is one thing to read a poet’s work for yourself and imagine the ways in which the poet intended for their poems to come to life on the page. It is an entirely different experience to get to listen, watch and bask in the joy of their work right along with them as they perform on stage.

Limón graced the stage and was witty, down to earth and gave insight into each of the poems she read. Limón read two poems from “Bright Dead Things,” the first collection she wrote when she moved to Lexington.

She opened with a reading of “State Bird” – a poem about not wanting to move to Kentucky. Limón followed her husband regardless, because her love for him triumphed over the unknown and the stereotypical way in which outsiders perceive the whimsical and sometimes dreary state.

“Confession,” Limón read, “I did not want to live here, not among the goldenrod, wild onions, or the dropseed … But love, I’ll concede this, whatever state you are, I’ll be that state’s bird.”

To begin her reading with a poem about not wanting to move to Kentucky was endearing and honest, something that became intrinsically apparent the more Limón began to read and share personal anecdotes along the way.

It was such a great opening poem, and I was so happy she began at that place. It was almost as if we were transported to the time and place in her life and journeyed along with her in this internal battle of chasing love and uprooting yourself because of it.

As Limón took us through her work, the tone and emphasis of certain words as she read along gave me a new appreciation for her work. I no longer must think of her poetic voice as I am digesting her vernacular, instead, days later as I read from her collections, I can perfectly hear her reading right along with me in my head.

My favorite poem Limón read Thursday, and my all-time favorite out of all her collections, was “The Raincoat.” It is in the second book Limón wrote during her time in Lexington and perfectly encapsulates the love of a mother and the innocent naivety children face about the impression of motherhood in early years.

Limón called this poem one for “chosen mothers,” and as she was reading, she brought me to tears. I was immediately taken back to the first time I read her poem and the feelings of overwhelming love and appreciation enveloped me.

I love my mother and all the things she has sacrificed for me; like Limón said in her poem, “I never asked her what she gave up driving me, or how her day was before the chore. Today at her age, I was driving myself home from yet another spine appointment … I saw a mom take her raincoat off and give it to her young daughter when a storm took over the afternoon. My god, I thought, my whole life I’ve been under her raincoat thinking it was somehow a marvel that I never got wet.”

Often, we learn to love and appreciate our mothers more as adults when we can reflect on all the things they sacrificed for us to live, survive and flourish. I highly recommend sending this poem to your mother, your chosen mother or a mother figure in your life to let them know you see, acknowledge and appreciate everything they have done for you.

After Limón’s reading, those in attendance formed a slightly dysfunctional line in the back of the Fine Arts building for a chance to get their copies of her books signed. I was wracked with excitement and nerves at the opportunity to not only meet a current U.S. Poet Laureate but also for the chance to talk to her, if only for a second.

With all three of her books in hand, I anxiously awaited my turn to see her, and I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest.

As Limón signed all three copies of her books, we briefly chatted about her travels thus far and how happy she was to finally be home in Kentucky. She said she is so grateful for the opportunities that poetry has given her and how traveling for poetry is marvelous.

She gets to see new states and cities and meet up with fellow poets at their local hangouts and just talk about life. As she was talking it sounded like a dream job. One full of meaningful connections, conversations and wonderful people.

As an aspiring poet, attending this reading and getting the opportunity to speak to Limón, gave me the reassurance that poetry is not dying and probably never will. There is a need for poetry, especially during troubling times and major world events.

As Limón said during her reading, poetry is essential because it reminds us we are humans with real emotions. In many ways, reading poems taps into emotions that may have been buried or forcibly desensitized due to the onslaught of death, violence, hate and doom many of us feel when looking at what is going on in the world today.

It lets us reconnect with ourselves and reminds us that it’s okay to cry, be angry or even feel joyous during times we feel otherwise.

If you didn’t get the chance to attend the reading, don’t worry, you can watch it on YouTube. I highly recommend it if you need a break or a way to tune out the busy noise of everyday life. Or if you simply enjoy poetry, it definitely will not disappoint.