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Ada Limon’s The Slowdown

Art G., CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Hello, Radio Readers! I’m Jane Holwerda from Dodge City, Kansas. I’ve been sitting with the words and imagery of Ada Limon, a poet who calls both Sonoma, California and Lexington, Kentucky home. The Hurting Kind is her 6th collection of poetry over 20 years.

Limon hosts a poetry podcast The Slowdown. And “slow down” is a good phrase for talking about the moments of wisdom that are Limon’s poems, each of them consonant with images of the natural world –finches and falcons, snakes and scorpions, linden and forsythia trees, horses. The images coalesce to moments of pause, moments that invite reflection, moments that reveal truth, what others have described as Limon’s “ecstatic revelation.”

The Hurting Kind has fewer than sixty poems with titles like “Foaling Season,” “Jar of Scorpions,” “Thorns,” “Heat.” Organized by seasons, the book opens with spring and closes on winter, closes indeed with a poem titled “The End of Poetry” which itself ends with a plea for touch, a word continuously poised, like “feeling” between the realms of the material and the spiritual, between the physical and the emotional. Limon’s poems plumb images from the natural world to penetrate the range of human experiences, confronted both head-on and obliquely. Not a formalist, Limon is lyrical, confessional, and conversational.

One of Limon’s poems I revisit is “Mountain Lion.” Her preoccupation with a video clip of a mountain lion leaping a 6ft fence “like it was nothing but a speed bump” provides a narrative frame for contrasting a mountain lion’s ease and grace to Limon’s own way of moving in the world. In doing so, Limon gives us a couple of lines of plain words with hard consonants, a combination that makes for slow articulation. Sounding the lines, we understand that her way of being is not of ease nor of fluidity, because these lines are not for speedy reading, because the hard consonants require full stops. She writes, “It’s just that I don’t think I’ve / ever made anything look so easy.” Then, with a mere five syllables distributed over two lines, the poem ends with a question followed by a command. If she were more mountain lion than she is Ada Limon, then she could – that wonderful verb connoting ability “could” --she writes, “See a fence?/ Jump it.” The space between who Ada Limon is and whom she wants to be, an interrogative up against an imperative, is a space of possibilities. It is, she writes, “like a dream you could will into being.”

Ada Limón, 24th Poet Laureate
Shawn Miller; Library of Congress
Ada Limón, 24th Poet Laureate

Radio Readers may recognize Ada Limon as the current United States Poet Laureate, appointed by the Librarian of Congress last year. In addition to her published works, her prestigious awards include those from the National Book Critics Circle, National Book, PEN, also a Guggenheim fellowship and a MacArthur Genius Grant. Some Radio Readers may believe that poetry isn’t their thing. Whether you enjoy or are wary of poetry, give Limon a try – her work is described as astonishing, engaging, revelatory, emotionally sincere, and thoughtfully observant. It’s also straightforward with few of those tricks and antics that some English teachers like to quiz students on. Browse for full versions of her poems online – a complete Limon poem is so much better than the bits and pieces that can be shared with you here.

In a tribute to her brother, Limon honors him for being someone who observes and admires things of the wild, someone who watches them return to the wild, someone who, to be sure they’ve safely returned, bends to observe “the grass clos[ing] up behind [them].” If this resonates with you, then this poet and her poems have much to offer. Let me know what you think – by posting at Radio Readers on Facebook.

For HPPR’s Radio Readers Poetry Pop-up Project, I’m Jane Holwerda from Dodge City, Kansas.

Fall Read 2023: Wisdom of the Natural World 2023 Fall ReadHPPR Radio Readers Book Club
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