I first became aware of Ada Limón when the podcast Poetry Unbound featured her poem Wonder Woman. Her clarity and vulnerability piqued my interest and took my breath away. She remained in the poetry periphery until the Library of Congress named her U.S. Poet Laureate in July 2022, and I started following her on Instagram.
In a press release announcing Limon’s appointment as U.S. Poet Laureate, Library of Congress’s Carla Hayden said, “Ada Limón is a poet who connects. Her accessible, engaging poems ground us in where we are and who we share our world with. They speak of intimate truths, of the beauty and heartbreak that is living, in ways that help us move forward.”
Poetry—both the reading it and writing it—challenges me these days. Two summers ago, I took an intensive summer poetry course, and it cracked me wide open. It demonstrated that I have some poetry writing chops, and gave me new tools for expressing myself. Even with a little taste of academic success, I still feel like a novice. The writing prompts that spring up in my monthly Prompted Poets group sometimes leave me with a blank sheet and no idea how to move forward. I recognize I need a mentor, an anchor in this poetry pursuit. After reading Limón’s The Hurting Kind in search of a birthday present for my daughter, I found a North Star in Limón. Reading her collection is a balm and an instruction. I even find a gentle admonition.
Limón’s Forsythia tells the memory of a loved one who looked at the budding forsythia outside as she was dying and asked for ‘more yellow’. Now when the speaker sees those forsythia bushes, this loved one comes to mind. Reading this poem reminded me that I have a forsythia memory: the word tickled my grandmother, who gardened. When she said it, she would lisp the word, “for-thith-ia,” and that would make us laugh.
In Joint Custody, the speaker reflects on how hard it was to go between two homes week after week. But she also reflects that in hindsight, she loved both places and so it was a form of abundance she couldn’t recognize while she was living it. As a mother who made the decision to get a divorce, I read this poem and feel hope that my daughter will recognize that this seismic shift created two healthier homes from the one that wasn’t serving us that we all lived in.
Limón explores another vantage point of divorce in Sports. The idea conveyed in this poem is that a dad and stepdad find a way to be civil by discussing sports. They find common ground in this banter, and the speaker realizes that these two—who could be considered diametrically opposed—were actually on the same team. This poem brought me to tears the first time I read it.
My poetry professor taught that the form of a poem can serve as an entry point into reading and understanding a poem. In Foaling Season, there are four parts. The first two parts are couplets (two line stanzas). The third and fourth are stichic meaning lines made up of the same meter and length and not broken into stanzas. The difference between the third and fourth parts is that the third is double-spaced and the fourth is single-spaced.
The poignancy of the poem’s words about mares and their foals and coupled with the way Limón chose to structure it served as a teaching moment for me, her student. It gave me ideas about how I might tell some of my stories through poetry rather than prose.
My word of the year is EASE. For most of my life, I have done things the hard way. As I so often put my shoulder to the grindstone, I never considered there was an easier way to accomplish the same task. Ease is the exact right word to guide me in this season of life. Being gentle with myself is becoming second nature to me, but I still catch myself setting unnecessarily high expectations in areas that do not warrant it.
I did not connect with every poem in this collection, and what this taught me was to move on to the next. To not labor over a poem that is not for me. Keep reading, keeping finding the poems that ARE for me. This is an important lesson, and one I know I will need to learn again and again. Who knows? Maybe reading and writing poetry will always feel hard. Maybe the process won’t get easier, but I believe after reading this collection that the pursuit is worth the effort.
Want an introduction to Ada Limón you can listen to? Check out this interview with Krista Tippett on On Being.