It has become a tiresome cliché here at Heretic, Rebel, a Thing to Flout for the proprietor to complain about being passed over each time a new Poet Laureate of the United States—Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress for all you sticklers for formality.
Of course, although my single, slim, and widely unread volume of work is officially in the Library’s collection, I am sure no one there is actually aware of its existence. My footprint on the Web is ephemeral. I only occasionally read at very local venues far from academic or urban centers. At best only a few hundred have ever read or heard a single of one the Old Man’s poems. So no, I will never be considered nor should I.
In recent years the Library of Congress has cast a wide net to recognize diverse voices by class, race, ethnicity, regional roots, and occupations. That continues with the announcement that Ada Limón, a 46-year-old Mexican-American from California will assume the duties this September.
She has exceptionally large shoes to fill. Native American Joy Harjo is completing three consecutive one year terms, tenure matched only by Robert Pinsky. That long appointment was partially due to disruptions caused by the Coronavirus pandemic, but also by Harjo’s remarkably vigorous body of work and dedication to promoting contemporary poetry.
Limón will be filling the exceptionally large shoes of Native American poet Joy Harjo.
Limón was born on March 28, 1976 and raised in Sonoma, California. As a child, she was greatly influenced by visual arts and artists, including her mother, Stacia Brady. She attended the drama school at the University of Washington, where she studied theatre. In 2001, she received an MFA from the creative writing program at New York University where Sharon Olds, Philip Levine, Marie Howe, Mark Doty, Agha Shahid Ali, and Tom Sleigh were among her teachers.
Upon graduation, Limón received a fellowship to live and write at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts. In 2003, she received a grant from the New York Foundation for the Arts, and in the same year won the Chicago Literary Award for Poetry.
She spent 12 years living in New York City supporting herself as a writer at magazines including Martha Stewart Living, GQ, and Travel + Leisure, none known for their literary content. But the jobs gave her the opportunity to hone her verse.
Limón's acclaimed collection Bright Dead Things.
Limón has published six poetry collections, Lucky Wreck which won the Autumn House Poetry Prize in 2005, Big Fake World winner of the Pearl Poetry Prize in 2006, National Book Award finalist Bright Dead Things in 2015, The Carrying in 2018 which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry, and The Hurting Kind this year. She is also the host of the podcast The Slowdown.
Limón currently splits her time between homes in Lexington, Kentucky and Sonoma where she lives with her husband Lucas Marquardt, a thoroughbred and racing writer.
Limón with husband Lucas Marquardt.
Upon her selection as the next Laureate, Limón told NPR’s All Things Considered:
I think that it’s really important to remember that even in this particularly hard moment, divided moment, poetry can really help us reclaim our humanity. I think we need to remember that we possess the full spectrum of human emotions. And I think moving through that grief and trauma, anger, rage — through poetry I think we can actually remember that on the other side of that is also contentment, joy, a little peace now and again, and that those are all a part of the same spectrum. And that without one, we don’t have the other.
Here is a small sample of Limón’s work.
Roadside Attractions with the Dogs of America
It’s a day when all the dogs of all
the borrowed houses are angel footing
down the hard hardwood of middle-America’s
newly loaned-up renovated kitchen floors,
and the world’s nicest pie I know
is somewhere waiting for the right
time to offer itself to the wayward
and the word-weary. How come the road
goes coast to coast and never just
dumps us in the water, clean and
come clean, like a fish slipped out
of the national net of “longing for joy.”
How come it doesn’t? Once, on a road trip
through the country, a waitress walked
in the train's diner car and swished
her non-aproned end and said,
“Hot stuff and food too.” My family
still says it, when the food is hot,
and the mood is good inside the open windows.
I’d like to wear an apron for you
and come over with non-church sanctioned
knee-highs and the prettiest pie of birds
and ocean water and grief. I’d like
to be younger when I do this, like the country
before Mr. Meriwether rowed the river
and then let the country fill him up
till it killed him hard by his own hand.
I'd like to be that dog they took with them,
large and dark and silent and un-blamable.
Or I’d like to be Emily Dickinson’s dog, Carlo,
and go on loving the rare un-loveable puzzle
of woman and human and mind. But, I bet I’m more
the house beagle and the howl and the obedient
eyes of everyone wanting to make their own kind
of America, but still be America, too. The road
is long and all the dogs don’t care too much about
roadside concrete history and postcards of state
treasures, they just want their head out the window,
and the speeding air to make them feel faster
and younger, and newer than all the dogs
that went before them, they want to be your only dog,
your best-loved dog, for this good dog of today
to be the only beast that matters.
How to Triumph Like a Girl
I like the lady horses best,
how they make it all look easy,
like running 40 miles per hour
is as fun as taking a nap, or grass.
I like their lady horse swagger,
after winning. Ears up, girls, ears up!
But mainly, let’s be honest, I like
that they’re ladies. As if this big
dangerous animal is also a part of me,
that somewhere inside the delicate
skin of my body, there pumps
an 8-pound female horse heart,
giant with power, heavy with blood.
Don’t you want to believe it?
Don’t you want to lift my shirt and see
the huge beating genius machine
that thinks, no, it knows,
it’s going to come in first.
No shoes and a glossy
red helmet, I rode
on the back of my dad’s
Harley at seven years old.
Before the divorce.
Before the new apartment.
Before the new marriage.
Before the apple tree.
Before the ceramics in the garbage.
Before the dog’s chain.
Before the koi were all eaten
by the crane. Before the road
between us, there was the road
beneath us, and I was just
big enough not to let go:
Henno Road, creek just below,
rough wind, chicken legs,
and I never knew survival
was like that. If you live,
you look back and beg
for it again, the hazardous
bliss before you know
what you would miss.