Ada Limón reads from her new book, ‘The Carrying’
It’s book-release day in poet Ada Limón’s suburban Lexington home, a day that’s always filled with joy, anticipation and, this time around, some nerves.
“This book is incredibly personal,” Limón says of “The Carrying,” her fifth book of poetry. “It’s more political than my other books. It tends to be more autobiographical than some of my other books. It deals with the body, with fertility. It also deals with what it is to do the day-to-day work of surviving.
“The book feels very close to home.”
But the self-revelatory nature of the book isn’t anything new for Limón. The real difference with this book release is her last book, 2015’s “Bright Dead Things.”
It became a sensation of the poetry world, eventually earning nominations for the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award and the National Book Award for poetry. So as Limón drops this new volume of poetry, people are paying attention.
Later on this day, she has an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, near her hometown of Sonoma, California. Later in the week, there are interviews with NPR and PBS. Next week, she has a Tuesday evening book launch event at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning before heading off on a coast-to-coast, border-to-border book tour.
“My first four books, I never had any expectations of what a poetry book would do,” Limón says. “You write a book. You tour. You put it out in the world. You hope people will read it. It’s a fairly straight forward, innocuous adventure.
“When ‘Bright Dead Things’ got so much attention ... I was suddenly thrust into a whole new world of what poetry could do, and how many people it could reach. ‘Bright Dead Things’ has done quite well for a book I thought no one would read. Now there are over 20,000 copies in the world, and for a poetry book, that’s quite a lot.
“The pressure is on. You don’t want to disappoint people. There are people that have become connected to your work. ‘Bright Dead Things’ has meant something to them ... I wanted to stay true to myself, without letting anyone down. We’ll see.”
Thus far, Limón appears to be in good shape. O Magazine has “The Carrying” on its list of “10 titles to pick up now” — so she has the blessing of Oprah — and she’s received strong reviews and write ups from outlets such as Publisher’s Weekly.
She revels in the details
A lot of the book was composed where Limón is sitting right now, the glass-top table on her screened-in back porch with her beloved dog, Lliy Bean, at her feet. Her last book dealt heavily with her move to Lexington from Brooklyn where she was creative services director for Travel + Leisure magazine.
In “The Carrying,” she is more settled in Lexington with her now-husband Lucas, who works in the horse industry. The book is colored by the deep green of Kentucky, and aspects of suburban life from rolling the garbage can to the curb to hearing the R.J. Corman trains pass nearby.
“I love that people are reading about Kentucky, and the books are sort of bringing that to the world of poetry,” Limón says.
Wherever she’s writing about, Limón’s work is marked by exquisite, minute details that pass by many people.
“It’s almost like being on poetry acid, where if you sit long enough and pay attention, your senses and your gaze widens, and everything starts to saturate the soul,” she says of her observant writing. “I love being in that place, and being receptive to the world in that way. It’s not as much about writing about it as it is receiving it.
“It makes me feel alive.”
As the book recounts, there have been some struggles in Limón’s life recently, including coming to terms with infertility and bouts of vertigo, the product of vestibular neuritis, an inner ear disorder.
In “The Vulture & The Body” she writes,
What if, instead of carrying
a child, I am supposed to carry grief?
In another poem, “Mastering,” she recounts a conversation with a friend who starts expounding on the virtues of having children, unaware of her struggle.
“I often write things because I need to write them, and I need to process them and work through them,” Limón says. “With those really personal, intimate poems, I was trying to figure out meaning and sense for myself. The only way I know to do that is write through it.”
Limón notes that as much as any of her books, “The Carrying” was written “in the moment,” and the moment was now more than a year ago.
“I generally have to be ready to have the conversation about those topics before I can put the poems out,” Limón says. “I don’t think I could have put the book out until I knew I was ready to talk about it.
“Lucas and I are happily child free now, and not trying anymore. That was kind of a good place for me to be in order to put the book out. I think I needed an answer to be able to read about the poems, because it’s so emotional when you’re going through it.
“We always laugh that we were waiting for the universe to give us an answer, and it did. It just said no. But that also means yes to a lot of great things. It feels like it’s been the right thing for us.”
Her national anthem
In addition to personal struggle, Limón is one of many artists who has struggled with the current political environment following the election of President Donald Trump, and what to say about it. She anticipates some attention for “A New National Anthem,” which expresses discomfort with the “Star-Spangled Banner’s” martial theme and unsung verses including a reference to “the hireling and slave.”
the truth is every song of this country
has an unsung third stanza, something brutal
snaking underneath us as we blindly sing
“Hopefully people will know I’m coming from a place of empathy, love and connection, versus trying to be divisive,” Limón says. “I’m not trying to downplay my own personal rage, but I also want to come to a place where we’ll all be connected. We’ll shake hands again. Be kind again.”
Later in the poem she says she wishes for an anthem of unity.
... the song that says my bones
are your bones , and your bones are my bones,
and isn’t that enough?
She recalls enjoying singing the anthem at places like her high school homecoming dance, but says she always had an unease that has grown the last few years. And, like many other topics, she felt she had to say something.
“I think it’s hard right now for anyone who is writing or creating anything to not address this tumultuous time,” Limón says.
“On some level, this administration, and the atrocities that have been happening since Trump took office has really made all of us question, ‘What is it that we haven’t been paying attention to? What is it that we’ve taken for granted? How do I become a good citizen? How do I love my country and do right by my country, and at the same time, be aware of what my country has done?’”
A broad 91 pages, “The Carrying” traverses from the universal to the intimate numerous times.
“The Real Reason” tells the story of why she does not have a tattoo. It involves her mother, and it’s not what you think.
“Love Poem with Apologies for My Appearance” came out of a comment her husband made about how great she looks in Facebook posts when she’s on tour.
“Then I come home, and I’m writing, and I looked up at him one day and said, ‘Sometimes, I think you get the worst of me,’ and that’s where that poem started.”
It all goes back to that attention to life, though Limón says sometimes she has to make herself put down the notebook and be in the moments.
“That hyper awareness also has to do with gratitude, the idea of being grateful for these small moments and stepping out of your life a bit,” she says. “You’re present, but you also see yourself as, ‘Who am I in this relationship, in this marriage?’”
“To be able to slow down and pay attention and receive images and listen and be present feels really important to me. It feels like what I’m supposed to be doing.”
IF YOU GO
What: Book release event with Limón reading and signing.
When: 6 p.m. Aug. 21
Where: Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning, 251 W. Second St.