Ada Limón has been named the 24th poet laureate of the United States, succeeding Joy Harjo. She will begin performing her duties, which include "rais[ing] the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry," this fall, and will open the Library of Congress’s annual literary season on September 29 with a reading of her work in the Coolidge Auditorium in Washington, D.C.
“Ada Limón is a poet who connects,” Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress, who appoints the poet laureate, said in a statement. “Her accessible, engaging poems ground us in where we are and who we share our world with. They speak of intimate truths, of the beauty and heartbreak that is living, in ways that help us move forward.”
Former poets laureate of the United States include Billy Collins, Rita Dove, Louise Glück, Juan Felipe Herrera, Donald Hall, Robert Hass, Ted Kooser, Stanley Kunitz, Philip Levine, W.S. Merwin, Robert Pinsky, Kay Ryan, Charles Simic, Tracy K. Smith, Natasha Trethewey, and Charles Wright.
Limón is the author of six poetry collections, including, most recently, The Hurting Kind; The Carrying, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry; and Bright Dead Things, a finalist for the National Book Award and the National Books Critics Circle Award, among others. She is a Guggenheim fellow, the host of the poetry podcast series The Slowdown from American Public Media, and a professor at the Queens University of Charlotte Low Residency MFA program. She lives in Lexington, Kentucky.
PW poetry reviews editor Maya Popa spoke with Limón about her ambitions for the role, her perspective on American poetry today, and more.
What are some of the aspects of the role that you most look forward to?
I believe deeply in the power of poetry to help us reconnect with our emotions, our feelings, our true selves. Reading poetry is always my way of remembering that I must be broken open to begin to heal, to find my way to joy. I very much want to amplify the message that poetry can help us reclaim our humanity, that poetry can be a tool to find our tenderness, our vulnerability, and our power again. I think recognizing our emotions, having empathy for other people’s experience, that makes us better people, it makes us braver too.
What is one project that you hope to continue/a new project you hope to undertake? (Whatever applies most at this stage!)
I don't have a full Poet Laureate project yet, but I'd like to explore how poetry can reconnect us to the natural world and help us to repair our relationship to the planet. Most of us live feeling very separated from nature, but poetry about the natural world reminds us that deep looking, paying attention, is a way of loving, as a way of reminding us that we, too, are nature. I'm interested in how we can make poetry available in green spaces or somehow allow for a confluence of poems and nature.
How do you see American poetry today?
The poet Paul Tran once said, "This isn't just the golden moment for poetry, it's been a golden struggle." And I love that, because poetry in the United States is flourishing. And that's due to the mentors, teachers, librarians, and poets who have been doing the work to spread the word of poetry for ages. The United States has such a diverse array of voices, of styles, of lineages that it feels like a particularly vibrant time to be reading both contemporary poetry and the foundational poets that made this moment possible.
The last few years--and the last few months, weeks--have been particularly challenging (understatement of the decade). In January, we spoke about the role of honoring the ancients in poetry. Can you talk about this as it relates to your next chapter as a champion of poets and poetry?
We have to remember where we have come from in order to move forward. These days, it seems everyone expects us to move on so quickly, to grieve at record speeds, to recover from trauma as if it was nothing. We are careening from one catastrophe to the next. But poetry allows us to do that work of honoring, of grieving, of feeling complex emotions in order to become more fully alive. More receptive to joy. We need poetry to remind us of what we've lost, but also to remind us of our ancestral power, our legacy. For me, my way of honoring my ancestors is living and writing with intention, is knowing that no matter how hard things are, I will continue to recommit to the beautiful and broken world.