Author: Hengzhi Yang
WE LIVE IN A TIME—as told by Louis Gluck—“almost fascistic in its enforcement of optimism.” With the hypocrisy of writings that either blindly worship perfect health or practically exhibit wounds in mere exchange for a feel-good moral experience, poetry has seemed to fail expectations to express something authentic. However, the newly named U.S. Poet Laureate Ada Limon proves it otherwise: her musical and accessible verses allow readers to realize a world where healing is possible while also not overlooking the difficulty of dealing with sadness or trauma. And more so, with the responsibilities and opportunities that come along with such an impactful position, Limon bravely envisions ways to “help the nation become whole again” by using the power of literature.
Just like what the history and mission of Poet Laureates may infer—charm and idealism for an intellectual figure offering guidance—Ada Limon’s works have always indeed been the voice critically needed in today’s increasingly divided America. Her words delineate hope, hope that is defined emotionally “radical” or earnestly “hard-earned.” In one of her most well-known pieces “Dead Stars”, these two qualities weaved into a touching tale of ordinary life. Being the poet’s attempt to “ lean toward the real questions,” “Dead Star” explores a familiar scene of stargazing in search of evidence for our survival and strength. “We point out the stars that make Orion as we take out / the trash, the rolling containers a song of suburban thunder…Look, we are not unspectacular things.”, she writes, “We have come this far, survived this much. What / would happen if we decided to survive more?” Then the lyric continues, evoking more pride and encouraging a political liberation: “What if we stood up with our synapses and flesh and said, No. / No, to the rising tides. / Stood for the many mute mouths of the sea, of the land?” Here, Limon’s depiction of nature is especially humanizing in an almost Whitmanesque texture. She can do it as if effortlessly, embedding the blast of emotions in the narrative of an occasion so casual and monotonous, one you wouldn’t even notice present everyday, and cultivating that into a rescue from self-consciousness or traumatic memories. A silver lining right at the next corner, something we all eager to see right now.
Whether it is the repercussions of the yet-on-going Covid pandemic,or alarming tensions established by recent geopolitical events, the world of imagination–realism that Limon creates through metaphors, personification, and even melody continues to serve as a remedy for many. The mundane and the challenges we face for her speaks humanity, “Right now, so often we are going numb to grief and numb to tragedy and numb to crisis,” she comments, and “Poetry is a way back in, to recognizing that we are feeling human beings. And feeling grief and feeling trauma can actually allow us to feel joy again.” On that note, Limon also urges us to look at, with new perspectives, the often-passing simple nature among ourselves: “a place [where we can finally] breathe.” Her recent collection, “The Hurting Kind,” explores carefully the “secrets” of nature, for which a memory subtle as a time fishing can evoke philosophy—-in a piece titled “The First Fish” she writes,“Is this where I am supposed to apologize? Not / only to the fish, but to the whole lake, land, not only for me / but for the generations of plunder and vanish.” There is humor at the end of all this, she reminds us, through such apology. Amidst the many accusations for great harm, realizing that the Fish isn’t the right one to confess to.
The legacy of Laureate Poets that Limon carries includes notable names such as Louise Glück, Joseph Brodsky, W.S. Merwin, Rita Dove, and Joy Harjo, each contributed in their own way to not only promote poetry, but also use it as a means to actualize our ideals. The current Poet Laureate Joy Harjo for instance, founded “Living Nations, Living Words” in honor of Indigenous writers and their writing. As to what Limon is planning to accomplish with her position an ambassador for the form, she admits that ideas are just starting to form, but prospects for quite ambitious missions. Limon notes that she will be staying in Lexington, Kentucky, for the near future. But her influence would be national—and bring, with solicitude, that is divided back into one.
Living Nations, Living Words: https://www.loc.gov/ghe/cascade/index.html?appid=be31c5cfc7614d6680e6fa47be888dc3
Glück Louise. “The Culture of Healing.” American Originality: Essays on Poetry, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2017.
Harris, Elizabeth A. “Ada Limón Is Named the next Poet Laureate.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 12 July 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/07/12/books/ada-limon-poet-laureate.html.
Italie, Hillel. “Ada Limón Named 24th U.S. Poet Laureate.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 13 July 2022, https://www.pbs.org/newshour/arts/ada-limon-named-24th-u-s-poet-laureate#:~:text=On%20Tuesday%2C%20the%20Library%20of,the%20laureate's%20few%20formal%20obligations.
Lilley, Sandra. “Ada Limón Is Named the 24th Poet Laureate of the U.S.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 12 July 2022, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/ada-limon-named-24th-poet-laureate-us-rcna37621.
Limón Ada. The Hurting Kind: Poems. Milkweed, 2022.
Limón, Ada. “Dead Stars by Ada Limón - Poems | Academy of American Poets.” Poets.org, Academy of American Poets, https://poets.org/poem/dead-stars.