There are many things I admire about Ada Limón’s poetry – most of all her stark honesty, and the bravery required to be frank about the things that matter.
The central themes in The Carrying, her fifth and most recent collection, are mortality, loss, infertility and self-worth. These are topics with which we associate pain, grief and sorrow … and yet Limón manages to muster so many opposites in her poems: she is at once vulnerable and defiant, sombre and strong, serious and funny – and therein lies her charm.
With opening lines like ‘The birds were being so bizarre today’ (Almost Forty) and ‘Have you ever noticed how the trees / change from state to state?’ (Of Roots & Roamers), Limón adopts a conversational style in much of her poetry. By purposefully digressing and laughing at herself at seemingly inappropriate times (‘I pretend my sunglasses hide / my whole body’ (Sacred Objects)), her reader assumes the role of friend and confidant, feels involved − finds the experience of reading her deeply personal and touching.
It helps that Limón’s work is so unaffected. She doesn’t try to be mystical or illusive, nor embody more fashionable trends of contemporary poetry: her writing exists on its own merit. It flows naturally, speaks plainly, is tightly formatted − yet the beauty, detail and composition are such that it’s perfectly clear The Carrying was not rushed off in a flurry of mindfulness exercises.
Limón’s sense of place is masterful. Each scene is portrayed with such beauty and tenderness, even amidst turbulent emotion. After the poet has invited us in and painted the picture, she then sets about delivering her message, incorporating twists and turns so that until the final line, we aren’t sure where we’re headed. Indeed, Limón has a knack of bringing her poems to a close in such a way that each lingers on − and despite the frequently difficult subject matter, it is rare for her to conclude on a negative note.
While Limón uses poetry to express her troubles, she doesn’t indulge in pain-worship. Instead she acknowledges the hardships of life whilst finding a way to be positive, grateful. A good example of this is seen in ‘Wonder Woman,’ where we begin the poem with an urgent care doctor saying ‘Well, / sometimes shit happens’ and concludes with a girl dressed as a superhero bowing and posing ‘like she knew I needed a myth − / a woman, by a river, indestructible.’
Ada Limón’s poetry is wise, intuitive, powerful - but above all, it’s accessible. There’s not an ounce of pretension in her work; you could underestimate the skill and craft hidden behind such seemingly simple lines. She bestows such wisdom – in ‘Prey,’ we are instructed ‘Don’t be the mouse’ and given important advice to learn from the trees in ‘Instructions on not giving up’.
Like the trees she describes, ‘a green skin / growing over whatever winter did to us,’ Limón’s poetry stands strong. It would be demeaning to label this collection as ultimately uplifting – these poems are much so more: fortifying, exuberant and full of life.
About the reviewer
Vic Pickup’s poetry has featured in a number of magazines and webzines. She is a previous winner of the Café Writers competition and was recently shortlisted for the National Poetry Day #speakyourtruth competition. In 2018, Vic co-founded the Inkpot Writer’s Group in the Hampshire village where she lives with her husband and three children.