Introductions: Ada Limón

On October 5th at McCaw Hall, Ada Limón—the wildly generous and truthful poet whose “heart wants her horses back”—read from her book Bright Dead Things and gave us all excellent writing adviceSAL Associate Director Rebecca Hoogs introduced and interviewed Ada for this event, which opened SAL’s 2016/17 Poetry Series.


By Rebecca Hoogs, SAL Associate Director

For a while now, my son has been a bear. For example, he roars at people he meets and likes to eat salmon because “bears eat salmon.” This week, driving to school and having a lapse in his bearhood, he asked if we were also animals. And perhaps because I’ve been immersed in Ada Limón’s poetry, I replied, yes, we’re the kind of animal called humans. Humans, he repeated, trying out the word on his tongue.

“I don’t believe in God,” Limón said in an interview, “but I do believe in animals.” And animals indeed populate her work: dogs and horses and birds, especially, but also the human kind, with their big feelings and despair and radical joy in spite of it all. “We’re all such bizarre animals,” she has said. “And I find the noises we make so exciting.”

Ada Limón is the author of four books of gorgeous noises, bountiful silences, of movement and stillness. Her most recent, Bright Dead Things, was named a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award in Poetry, a finalist for the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award, and was named one of the Top Ten Poetry Books of the Year by the New York Times. The work is truly gorgeous—both in its contemporary sense of beauty, and also in its etymological sense, which refers to the throat. These poems are both the beauty adorning the throat, the warm, worn pearls, and the intimate lump in the throat, the not-quite crying. They contain the vast awe of the abyss, the gorge. Library Journal praised the book, calling it “generous of heart, intricate and accessible… the poems in this book are wondrous and deeply moving.”

Her work is Charles Wright-esque, a sort of Southern Pastoral when it stares off into the dark field behind the house, reveling in stillness and being grounded; it’s Sharon Olds-esque on matters of sex, the self, and family; it’s Naomi Shihab Nye-esque in its love of the world, in the way it praises. And, of course, it’s entirely Ada Limón-esque—an -esque all of her own that offers us poems of, she has said, “A life that [is] actively thankful and h[olds] within it a radical hope despite the darkness all around.”

“Poetry,” she has said, “wants you to live your life and find happiness and breathe.” What an amazing idea! That poetry wants so much good for us. What Ada Limón wants, perhaps, is suggested in these lines from her poem, “How Far Away We Are”: “I want to give you something, or I want to take / something from you. But I want to feel the exchange, / the warm hand on the shoulder, the song coming out / and the ear holding on to it.” Here you are, dear animals, dear ears, ready to hold onto Ada Limón’s poetry. Poetry knows what’s good for you, and what’s good for you is Ada Limón.

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