Sonoma native Ada Limón named 24th US poet laureate
Ever since she burst upon the poetry scene with her book, “This Big Fake World,” in 2005, Ada Limón has created an intimacy with readers through her sensitive, emotionally honest work, much of which draws on compelling experiences in her native Sonoma Valley.
And on Tuesday, she received the most prestigious designation in American poetry when Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden asked her to serve as the nation’s 24th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry for 2022-23.
“Ada Limón is a poet who connects,” Hayden said in a news release. “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.”
Limón said that she is honored to serve as poet laureate.
“I rarely find myself at a loss for words, but I was speechless,” Limón said. “The call was incredibly unexpected. I have been in awe of previous poet laureates and to be named in their company was, and is, humbling.”
The poet laureate position was created in 1937 and since then, many of the nation’s most eminent poets have been appointed to it. During the process of appointing a poet laureate, the librarian consults with distinguished poets such as current and former poet laureates, which have included Philip Levine, Rita Dove, Billy Collins and Tracy K. Smith.
Poets laureate receive a $35,000 stipend and $5,000 for travel expenses. They serve from October to May and seek to raise the national consciousness to better appreciate the reading and writing of poetry. Specific duties are kept to a minimum so that they have sufficient time to focus on their own projects, but in recent years, laureates have initiated projects that have broadened the audiences for poetry.
Limón will begin her term with a reading of her work in Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 29, marking the beginning of the library’s annual literary season.
She has written six volumes of poetry, with the most recent being “The Hurting Kind,” published by Milkweed Editions this year.
“I have always been too sensitive, a weeper/from a long line of weepers,” Limón writes. “I am the hurting kind.”
Immersion with nature
Underlying much of her work is the call to repair our relationship with the earth.
“We have to understand that it is reciprocal,” she said. “Growing up in Sonoma, I remember nature hikes and classes outside, starting early with plant identification in the Bouverie Audubon Preserve and guided walks with famed environmental educator Mrs. [Elizabeth] Terwilliger. Those were seminal experiences for me as a child and I know that they shaped me as a writer. But it also shaped me as a person. I was taught that we, too, are nature.”
Her acute, evolving awareness of nature is apparent throughout “The Hurting Kind” as she weaves it into memories and hopes that convey a wide range of raw emotions and realizations. This is notable in the poem, “In the Shadow.”
The wild pansy shoves its persistent face beneath the hackberry’s shade, true plum and gold,
with the alternate names: Johnny jump-up, heartsease, or my favorite, love-in-idleness.
I bow closer to the new face. I am always superimposing a face on flowers, I call the violet moon vinca
the choir, and there are surely eyes in the birdeye speedwell, and mouths on the linear snapdragon.
In what we do in order to care for things, make them ourselves, our elders, our beloveds, our unborn.
But perhaps there is a lazy kind of love. Why can’t I just love the flower for being a flower?
How many flowers have I yanked to puppet as if it was easy for the world to make flowers?
Nature imagery runs though the book, often conjuring up memories of her childhood. She was born on Carriger Road in Sonoma in 1976.
“Sonoma is my home,” she said. “I grew up across the street from Calabazas Creek in Glen Ellen and I still have an attachment to that creek, to the trees, to the landscape. I have always felt like I have a deeply spiritual connection to the land in Sonoma and Glen Ellen.”
Ancestral roots and early life
Her ancestry is part Irish, Scottish and German, but she has always identified with her Mexican heritage.
“My paternal grandfather was from San Juan de Los Lagos, Mexico,” Limón said. “I think of him often, especially right now. He would have loved this. He was such a creative man, a dancer, an actor, a singer. And yet, he didn’t have the chance to choose art. And it’s hard not to be incredibly grateful that his sacrifices allowed me to have a different life, a creative life.”