Ada Limón Turns the Commonplace into the Personal
In The Carrying, the fifth collection of poems by Ada Limón, the poet takes the commonplace and turns it into a meditation about the personal. It might be a dog’s leash, a cemetery visit, a snowy day, a blue jay, roadkill, or a street overpass. She sees the obvious things that we all see but looks beyond or inside them to see far more, grasp more, and understand more.
That dog’s leash provides an occasion to consider warfare, power, and restraint. Seeing a dead animal on the side of the road becomes a discussion with the doctor at the fertility clinic. The flash of a blue jay’s wing leads to a reflection on always making big deals out of everything.
And the image of birds screaming in and flying around nearby trees leads to the meaning, if any, of reaching middle age.
in their winter shock of sweet gum and ash.
We swallow what we won’t say: Maybe
it’s a warning. Maybe they’re screaming
for us to take cover. Inside, your father
seems angry, and the soup’s grown cold
on the stove. I’ve never been someone
to wish for too much, but now I say,
I want to live a long time. You look up
from your work and nod. Yes, but
in good health. We turn up the stove
again and eat what we’ve made together,
each bite an ordinary weapon we wield
against the shrinking of mouths.
What reading this collection does, of course, is start you on your own considerations of the commonplace. The planting of winter-hardy pansies becomes thoughts of the transience of life. A short walk to the local library is a reminder of the importance of when you were 10, riding your bike alongside a busy, congested highway to the library for the next books in the summer reading program. Or, as Limón writes, a tree struggling against weather, pests, and age to leaf out once again is a metaphor for the resilience of life and why you must carry on.
Limón has published five books of poetry: The Carrying, Bright Dead Things, Lucky Wreck, Sharks in the Rivers, and The Big Fake World. A sixth, The Hurting Kind, will be published in May 2022. The Carrying received the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry. Bright Dead Things was nominated for the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. She also hosts the poetry podcast The Slowdown. She lives in Lexington, Kentucky.
The 62 poems of The Carrying carry a requirement and a promise. The requirement is to take nothing for granted and to see things that are right in front of you. The promise is what will happen when you do that.
How to Read a Poem uses images like the mouse, the hive, the switch (from the Billy Collins poem)—to guide readers into new ways of understanding poems. Anthology included.
“I require all our incoming poetry students—in the MFA I direct—to buy and read this book.”
—Jeanetta Calhoun Mish
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