Ada Limón’s reading for the Zell Visiting Writers Series at the University of Michigan Museum of Art marked the changing of the seasons. It was Saint Patrick’s Day, the first day of warm weather and blooming flowers. Ann Arbor’s community of friends, lovers and enemies came outside, turning the city into a people-watching gallery.
Ada Limón’s poetry paints pictures that visualize human nature much like the natural world. Limón’s work, celebrated with accolades including a Guggenheim fellowship and a National Book Critics Circle Award for her book “The Carrying,” illustrates themes including grief, struggle, loss, love, wonder and interconnectedness. Her medium for illustration is carefully crafted rhythmic verse.
It is only fitting that Limón begins her reading with a poem from “The Carrying” about the first days of spring, titled “Instructions on Not Giving Up.” Her soft, soothing voice floats over terms like “magenta,” “cotton-candy” and “taffy” before eventually revealing the natural desire for a new beginning. Her next poem, “What I Didn’t Know Before,” is another ode to love and the natural world. She takes a reminiscent tone as she depicts her love as a newborn horse that “came out fully formed, ready to run.” She introduces her last poem from “The Carrying” titled “Love Poem with Apologies” with a laugh. She visualizes her messiest days at home, where she feels relaxed enough to reveal her true self to her husband. Her playful yet personal tone allows messages of loss, desire and love to shine through.
The reading feels even more personal as Limón turns to nine poems from her unreleased project, “The Hurting Kind”: a book dedicated to her ancestors and loved ones coming out in May 2022. The first poem is another beautiful illustration of nature: of a silly groundhog digging up her tomatoes. Limón begs to feel the same freedom that the young groundhog feels, revealing the human desire to be truly carefree.
Limón introduces her next poem, “Invasive,” with an explanation and dedication to a loved one recently diagnosed with a fatal illness. The poem makes the difficult theme accessible and almost beautiful, comparing the invasion of illness to the invasion of a beautiful creek. In “A Good Story,” she returns to playful storytelling about the stories her stepfather told her, revealing the childish desire for disturbing stories and the adult desire for good news. Her dedication to loved ones continues as she ties her husband’s love to the beautiful “Forsythia” flower.
She introduces every poem with an anecdote, joking about “poems to bad lovers” before introducing a slowly read “friendship poem” titled “Magnificent Frigatebirds.” Limón then returns to reminiscence with poems celebrating her upbringing titled “Joint Custody,” a poem bluntly titled “Sports,” about the communal nature of fanaticism, and a poem titled “Heart on Fire,” dedicated to her grandfather. Lastly, with her easygoing and casual humor, she introduces her final poem “The End of Poetry”: a long list of all the things poetry discusses.
Her playful (yet somehow soothing) tone extends to her conversation with Nadia Mota. They discuss themes of the “big unknown,” “interconnectedness,” and the freedom to write what you want rather than what the public or publishers expect. The conversation, much like Limón’s verse, flows freely. She discusses her process of looking outside herself and focusing on nature to understand greater truths. She jokes with Mota about how her poetry shows her “obsession with animals” and views on the “wonderful and bizarre,” before Mota opens the conversation to Zoom and live audience attendees.
In the last 10 minutes, we grow even closer to Limón and her work. She discusses poems on ex-boyfriends and male friends and jokes about men’s “worried” way of loving. She dedicates her new book to her loved ones, yet tells us creating a book is just like creating a “long poem” which eventually comes under one united theme, in this case, family. Limón finally tells us that “truth” to her is just about what rings true to her personally, which all readers can find through her deeply personal yet relatable work.
Limón’s work, though it discusses endings, memories and pain, feels like a new beginning. As the crowd walks out into the 70-degree heat and the sun setting over the UMMA, it finally feels like spring.
Daily Arts Writer Kaya Ginsky can be reached at email@example.com.