Ada Limón’s reading marks the change of seasons

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Reading by Ada Limón for the Zell Guest Writer Series to University of Michigan Museum of Art marked the change of seasons. It was Saint Patrick’s Day, the first day of warm weather and blooming flowers. Ann Arbor’s community of friends, lovers, and foes came out, turning the town into a people-watching gallery.

Ada Limón’s poetry paints images 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 his book “the carrying,” illustrates themes such as grief, struggle, loss, love, wonder and connectedness. His illustrative medium is carefully crafted rhythmic verse.

It is fitting that Limón begins his 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 ‘pull’ before finally revealing the natural desire for a fresh start. Her next poem, “What I Didn’t Know Before,” is another ode to love and the natural world. She strikes an evocative tone as she describes her love as a newborn horse that “came out fully trained, ready to run.” She introduces her latest poem from “The Carrying” titled “Love Poem with Apologies” with a laugh. She visualizes her messier 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, longing and love to shine through.

The reading is even more personal as Limón turns to nine poems from his unpublished project, “The hurtful kind”: a book dedicated to his ancestors and his relatives which will be released in May 2022. The first poem is another beautiful illustration of nature: that of a silly groundhog digging up his tomatoes. Limón begs to feel the same freedom as the young groundhog, revealing the human desire to be truly carefree.

Limón presents his next poem, “Invasive”, with an explanation and a dedication to a loved one recently diagnosed with a terminal illness. The poem makes the difficult theme accessible and almost beautiful, comparing the invasion of disease to the invasion of a beautiful stream. In “A Good Story”, she returns to playfully telling the stories her stepfather told her, revealing the childish desire for disturbing stories and the adult desire for good news. Her devotion to her loved ones continues as she bonds her husband’s love with the beautiful flower ‘Forsythia’.

She introduces each poem with an anecdote, joking about “poems to bad lovers” before introducing a slowly read “friendship poem” titled “Magnificent Frigatebirds”. Limón then returns to memory with poems celebrating his upbringing titled “Coint Custody”, a poem aptly titled “Sports”, about the communal nature of fanaticism, and a poem titled “Heart on Fire”, dedicated to his grandfather. Finally, with her casual and offhand humor, she presents her latest poem “The End of Poetry”: a long list of all the things poetry is about.

His cheerful (but somewhat soothing) tone extends to his conversation with Nadia Mota. They discuss themes of the “great unknown”, “interdependence”, 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 talks about her process of looking outside of herself and focusing on nature to understand greater truths. She jokes with Mota about how his poetry shows his “obsession with animals” and his views on the “wonderful and bizarre”, before Mota opened up the conversation to Zoom and live viewers.

In the last 10 minutes, we get even closer to Limón and his work. She discusses poems about ex-boyfriends and male friends and jokes about how “worried” men are in love. She dedicates her new book to her loved ones, but tells us that creating a book is like creating a “long poem” that ends up being brought together under one theme, in this case, family. Limón finally tells us that “truth” for her is pretty much what feels true to her personally, which all readers can find through her deeply personal yet relatable work.

Limón’s work, while dealing with endings, memories and pain, feels like a new beginning. As I walk in the 70 degree heat and the sun sets over the UMMA, it finally feels like spring.

Daily arts writer Kaya Ginsky can be reached at [email protected]


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