“All Writing Is Basically Failure”: Ada Limón Reckons With Poetry in Today’s World
Ada Limón is a light that shines in darkness. Her keen interest in the natural world is matched only by her astonishing honesty about her feelings. In her new collection of poems, Kind of pain, she writes, “I like to call things the way they are,” and “right now, all I want is a story about human kindness.” A sentiment familiar today, as Limón put it, “nothing is normal now even if it is.” Dipping into her poem, she writes, “is my secret work, worthy of respect… this endless speech where everything is interesting because you point it out and say, That’s interesting, isn’t it?”
Capturing surprise in a moment of recollection, Limón reflects on surviving a relationship with a cruel man who “thinks I haven’t had enough”. Her thoughts turned from him to the evolutionary attributes of the New Mexico white lizard, an all-female species, with the “yellow line”. [that] run the length of their gray body with a brilliant blue tail when they are young. And as they age, their scales, their whole bodies change, until only the lightest blue remains, and safer now, they become the earthy color of the river.” Examining the arc from youthful vibrancy to protective camouflage, Limón traces the beauty of wisdom as we age. Fusing all the too human problems in our lives in the context of nature, Limón achieves a hovering grace.
A California native who lived for 12 years in New York City, she now lives in Lexington, Kentucky. A charismatic and cheerful poetry advocate, she has steadily published six anthologies since 2006. Bright dead things (2015) finalist for National Book Award and 2018 Bring Won the National Book Critics Association Prize for Poetry. Since then, she has become a popular podcast host Deceleration.
While Bring detect problems of loss and shelter, infertility and interdependence, Kind of pain build on those themes by exploring the restorative connections between human life and the natural world. Poems about hurt and grief in a world full of confusion and brokenness.
Last month, I caught Limón via Zoom in her Philadelphia hotel room, where she was preparing to speak at the Writers Guild of America conference & Writing Program. Our wide-ranging conversation is a mix of tears and laughter, touching stories of fear and anxiety, longing for longevity, healthy skepticism about easy answers, the concept of peace. more about family and our shared love for the natural world.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Vanity Fair: You just had your first public reading since the pandemic hit last week. How do you feel?
Ada Limón: Traveling feels difficult and strange. There’s a lot of time in a hotel room instead of the fun of “seeing the world for yourself through a meal in a restaurant”, but then reading yourself really feels great. It reminds me of what poetry can do in terms of connection. Everyone wears masks, but just seeing people’s eyes and reactions, hearing them clapping and sighing reminds me, “Oh, that’s right. This is what it is to create this art form, because I think poetry has been incredible during the pandemic, and it will continue to be so as the pandemic continues. But I don’t think I realized how much I missed being part of the community.
Can you talk about how the pandemic has affected you? Did you have a period where you stopped writing? Or did you write throughout?
I had a rough time at the beginning like everyone between the overwhelming fear and anxiety that prevailed. I was reading a book at the time New York Times Apply to cover every day. During that time, I couldn’t write. I realized that I could write grief and I could write love. I can even write out of anger, but I don’t think I can write out of fear. I think that’s probably the quietest emotion: fear and anxiety.
I would look at the page and think: I don’t know what you’re doing for me? [Writing]doesn’t help me and you don’t want to just read a poem like, “I’m scared. I’m scared. I’m scared. I’m scared.” But the funny thing is that “The Last Paragraph,” the last poem of the new book, came to me because I needed to be touched and hugged and hugged. And that poem didn’t begin. with the last line, it begins with the uselessness of poetry to me and its antics that I cannot [use] because i want a sharp tool and all i have is soft language, you know? But of course, what does a poet do when all languages fail they are writing a poem? [Laughs.] That poem was what motivated me to start writing again, and then I continued to write throughout. That is truly a saving grace. It has always been in my life. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I didn’t write, and read, but just act out it on the page.
Back to what you said about soft languages and needing a sharp tool; when it can’t seem to affect anything, you make something out of it. It goes back to that idea of creating space for people to absorb something. We think it’s important to react and react very directly to events when in reality, sometimes things just go their way, if you just have to give it some space.
https://www.vanityfair.com/style/2022/05/ada-limon-reckons-with-poetry-in-todays-world “All Writing Is Basically Failure”: Ada Limón Reckons With Poetry in Today’s World