We were thrilled to interview the 24th US Poet Laureate Ada Limón about her newest book, The Hurting Kind, and her approach to writing and poetry.
little infinite: When did you know poetry would be the writing outlet for you? Introduce us to your journey to poetry and how you got to where you are currently.
Ada Limón: The only writing that ever fit me completely was poetry. I loved writing short stories and songs and such when I was growing up, but when I found poetry, everything seemed to make sense. It makes room for mystery, for breath, for silence, and strangeness. There are no answers in poetry and when I found myself writing poems in earnestness in my junior and senior year of college, I was immediately hooked. No other art form had ever hooked me quite like making a poem. And that’s still the case!
About Becoming the 24th U.S. Poet Laureate
little infinite: What do you hope to accomplish during your term as US Poet Laureate?
Ada Limón: I’m hoping that I can be a spokesperson for poetry’s power. So many Poets Laureate before me have worked hard and helping the public know that poetry exists, that it’s out there, that it’s a living thing, so my job can be perhaps a little different? My job is to remind people of poetry’s power. Of what it can do. I’m hoping that I am able to help people see that poetry can be a way for us to reclaim our humanity, to experience the full spectrum of human emotions, and to reconnect with the natural world.
little infinite: What are the most surprising aspects of becoming the US Poet Laureate so far?
Ada Limón: To be honest, I don’t think I expected so many interviews or press. I knew of course that it was an enormous honor for me and that the Library of Congress wants the poet laureate to elevate and expand poetry on a national level, but I was unprepared for the amount of public recognition there was right from the start. It was surprising and in some ways very heartening because it made me realize how much we are all hungry for poetry. Honestly, it moved me deeply. It still does!
About the Journey
little infinite: What artists or poets influenced you most throughout your writing journey? How did they inspire you?
Ada Limón: I was always in awe of Elizabeth Bishop and Frank O’Hara and Lucille Clifton when I started out writing. There are so many others of course; I love and loved Muriel Rukeyser, Audre Lorde, Phil Levine, Sonia Sanchez and Sharon Olds, but what always inspired me the most was how each poem could be different. Each poem could have an entirely different identity and a different way of moving in the world. That is still wild to me. Even if the poet is very powerful behind the poem, the poem has a life of its own!
little infinite: What part of your most recent collection, The Hurting Kind, did you find the most challenging to write? Was there anything you did to prepare to share your story with such vulnerability?
Ada Limón: The hardest part of writing The Hurting Kind was to write about grief in a way that balanced the hurt with the acceptance. I wanted this book to underscore how hard it is to lose someone, to lose anything, and yet at the same time I wanted it to point to the beauty and light of the world. Getting that balance right was hard for me. I didn’t want to just wallow in the well, I wanted to also point to the animals, the trees, the beloveds. Sometimes the most vulnerable thing for me is to be true to how I’m feeling, even if what I am feeling is incredibly complex.
little infinite: How do you hope readers feel after reading The Hurting Kind?
Ada Limón: I hope that readers find themselves noticing the world more after reading my book. I hope they look out the window and notice something they might have missed. I hope they also realize that it’s important to feel our griefs and our losses as well as our joys and connections. Life isn’t all one thing, one emotion, one note, it’s about the whole world entering us and all of us entering the world. It’s not easy and it’s not supposed to be easy. I hope readers can come away with a feeling of connectedness.
little infinite: What would you say is your most interesting writing habit/quirk?
Ada Limón: Oh well I’m not sure if it’s interesting at all, but I know that I read all my poems out loud when I’m writing them. I’m always reading them for sound, for images, so that I can hear the way they are moving in the ear and the mouth and the tongue as well as the body and the fingers. Writing for me is a full body experience and I don’t know if that’s “interesting” but I don’t know how else to write.
Advice for new writers?
little infinite: If you could give a new writer one piece of advice for starting, what would that piece of advice be? Why does this piece of advice personally stand out to you?
Ada Limón: I think the biggest thing I would offer to new writers is that making art should feel important to you, you should feel attached to it, you should feel connected to it. That’s the joy! When someone else offers a critique, you shouldn’t automatically accept that critique, but you shouldn’t automatically reject it either. Sometimes there is room to improve, to edit, to revise. I think of so many new poets who are scared that revision might hurt their original momentum or emotional impact of a poem, but almost always, revision improves the poem. Don’t be scared of making a change as long as you keep your first draft handy in case you want to go back to it!
little infinite: What is next on your creative bucket list? Where do you hope to see your poetry influence the community?
Ada Limón: I love seeing poetry travel without its author, to move through the world with a mind of its own! I hope my poems can do that, but I also hope poetry in general does that. Moves through the world and surprises people in unexpected ways. I’d love to make more and more poems and keep writing throughout my life because as Richard Hugo said, “Writing is a way of saying you and the world have a chance.” And I’ve always felt that way. Writing is my way of binding myself to this impossible world.
little infinite: Poetry for Life™ is little infinite’s mantra. We’re about making it easier to carry poetry through different phases of your life. Poetry for Life can hold sentiment in various aspects according to the person, which is why we love it. What does “Poetry for Life” mean to you?
Ada Limón: For me, poetry for life is about the recognition that poetry is there for us no matter what it is we are going through. Whether you’re joyful or in the deep blues or feeling some kind of way about some kind of person, there’s a poem that might meet you there, might open a door, and say, “me too.” Poetry isn’t one thing, it’s everything, and it’s always, and it’s right now.
ABOUT ADA LIMON
Ada Limón is the twenty-fourth Poet Laureate of the United States as well as the author of The Hurting Kind and five other poetry collections. These include, most recently, The Carrying, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award and was named a finalist for the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award, and Bright Dead Things, which was named a finalist for the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Kingsley Tufts Award. Limón is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times, and American Poetry Review, among others. She is the former host of American Public Media’s weekday poetry podcast The Slowdown. Born and raised in California, she now lives in Lexington, Kentucky.
Poetry to Read Right Now by Award-Winning Poet, Ada Limón