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U s Ada Limón, the Poet Laureate, talks about the value of grieving in The Student Life


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    Ada Limon sits on a couch holding a microphone with the interviewer looks her direction.
    Ada Limón at Scripps Presents |Courtesy: David Torralva

    “I really do think that poetry can be an opportunity to grieve and an opportunity to resurrect parts of ourselves,” Ada Limón said to an audience of 500 at the Scripps College’s Garrison Theater, many of whom traveled across Los Angeles County to see her. “That’s what I’m hoping to do on this very special day.”

    On Nov. 2, Ada Limón, the 24th United States Poet Laureate, 2023 MacArthur Fellowship Genius grant awardee and the author of six poetry books, joined the Scripps Presents in Conversation lineup — a series inviting storytellers, artists, policymakers and musicians to share their contributions to leadership and critical thought on important current issues. Limón read nine of her poems embodying her curiosity about the world and our interconnectedness with it, and followed up with a conversation with Lynne Thompson, the 2021-2022 LA Poet Laureate and 2018-2022 chair of Scripps’ Board of Trustees.

    Limón opened her talk by describing how her ofrenda – an altar honoring her ancestors for Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) – was backstage in the green room, her loved ones resurrected through photos she brought from home.

    From her first piece “Relentless” to her last piece “The End of Poetry,” audience members leaned in, taken by her precise language and vulnerability. Even in between poems, Limón knew how to hold space for both grief and joy, for moments of laughter even after a heavy poem.

    Limón elicited her idea of joy through humor. She joked that poets will literally write about anything while introducing her poem “Dead Stars,” which she wrote about the sound of rolling trash bins.

    “Leave it to poets to make a poem about anything,” Limón said. “That’s what keeps us single.”

    Much of Limón’s writing touches upon the constant alternation of emotions between moments of joy to times of grief. This came across while she read her poem, “After the Fire.”

    “Funny thing about grief, its hold is so bright and determined like a flame, like something almost worth living for,” Limón read.

    “I think that even with every horrible thing that is happening right now, I do really believe in poetry,” Limón said. “I believe in its power to allow us to absorb things, to process things, to not go for the easy answer, to know that even though we seek clarity, mystery is usually what we find.”

    In her conversation with Thompson, Limón described how because there is so much hurt and violence in the world, individuals cannot heal or move towards action if they don’t take the time to grieve. For her, poetry can be a space to process that grief.

    “I think that even with every horrible thing that is happening right now, I do really believe in poetry,” Limón said. “I believe in its power to allow us to absorb things, to process things, to not go for the easy answer, to know that even though we seek clarity, mystery is usually what we find.”

    River Rafferty SC ’25, an audience member and admirer of Limón’s work, agreed with this sentiment.

    “Especially in a time of political turmoil and tragedy, I think it’s really important to turn to art and communication and poetry in order to get through that,” Rafferty said.

    In fact, many people have turned to Limón’s work as inspiration for their own art. John Waldman, a fifth and sixth-grade teacher at Pluralistic School One in Santa Monica, gave each of his students one of Limón’s poems on the first day of school.

    “We had a lively discussion,” Waldman told Limón during the Q&A portion of the event. “After our conversation about your poems, each of the students wrote a poem inspired by you, and I’d like to give them to you tonight.”

    As Waldman walked up to the stage, presenting Limón with his students’ poems, the room felt a palpable sense of warmth.

    Still, attendees like Hannah Price PZ ’25 wondered if Limón, an inspiration to many, ever struggled as a writer.

    “Do you ever feel impostor syndrome, even as a poet laureate?” Price asked.

    Limón, in response, described how she tries not to give imposter syndrome any credence.

    “I think [imposter syndrome] was sort of invented by a white man,” Limón said. “If I do feel that, I think, ‘Yeah, I’m nobody, and that’s so great.’”

    She pointed out how she would much rather be sitting with the audience than up on the stage, “like we’re all together in this community.”

    In fact, Limón wants to get away from the idea that she has wisdom, but instead as someone “who can encourage many people … to trust themselves in their own curiosity.”

    “That’s what I really try to focus on … put[ting] us all in the mess together,” Limón said. “Because then we’re all in it together. Then we’re not alone in those feelings.”

    As the U.S. Poet Laureate, Ada Limón is working on multiple projects. Her initiative, “You Are Here” will create poetry art installations across seven national parks as well as an anthology of 50 original poems from contemporary poets responding to the natural world. Additionally, Limón wrote an original poem commissioned by NASA as part of their “Message in a Bottle” campaign. Her poem will be flown on the Europa Clipper mission Oct. 2024. Students who wish to have their name engraved alongside Limón’s poem can sign here.

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