Interview with Ada Limon, the new American graduate poet

Ada Limón, author of six books of poetry, began her term as the 24th graduate poet of the United States on 29 September. As host of the podcast The slowdown, focuses on new ways to make poetry accessible. In the conversation below, he talks about drawing inspiration from nature; tears; and his hopes for the next generation of poets.

What is the state of poetry in 2022?

It is an incredible time for contemporary poetry. If I open a [literary] magazine, I can read 20 poems by poets I’ve never heard of before. Twenty years ago, there were fewer rumors. Now it looks like America is really in the room.

What has changed?

There has been a push in the past 10 years to make poetry accessible. She is not always in the classroom. Sometimes she is on the subway. Sometimes it’s on social media: Twitter, Instagram. This kind of access sparked a passion, not only for reading poems, but also for writing them.

Read more: The first Native American poet to graduate on how poetry can counter hatred

How does it feel to become a graduate poet during a wave of book banning efforts?

It is a very significant historical moment in which to celebrate poems of different kinds of people. I want to make sure those voices are heard.

Many of your poems are about nature. What’s your favorite natural spot in the United States?

I’m a big believer in outdoor writing. Here in Lexington, Ky., I write on my back porch. In California there is Moon Mountain. There is a view of the Golden Gate Bridge. As a kid I used to go to the Sonoma coast and it’s a wonderful place to write. There is a lot of creativity to be exploited in the ocean landscape because it is always in motion, always agitated. It tones up some of the chaos of the brain. Feel that hustle and bustle of the ocean and are lulled by a new rhythm for poetry.

Do you see a role that poetry can play in the fight against climate change?

Poets, incredible poets of nature like Mary Oliver, Gabriela Mistral or Audre Lorde, look deeply at the world and make us feel as if we are connected. Poetry that addresses the natural world helps us mend that connection. When you pay attention to something, it’s a way to love something. How can we continue to hurt something we love?

How do you see the role of poetry in the recording of the pandemic?

When I read someone else’s poem, other people seem to have felt these emotions. I am not the only human being who has gone through a difficult time.

Read more: 12 Questions for Kevin Young, poet and the new director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture

You finished your last anthology, The wounded type, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Did writing come easily or not?

I had this moment where I was like, “What good is another poem in the world? What we need is vaccines.” I felt like a hummingbird against a hurricane. Then I wrote “The end of poetry” and I he reminded that language can bring you back into the world. It might be all I can do, but that’s enough.

Several poems in The injured type concern birdwatching. Is bird watching a good practice for writing?

I’ve always loved birds. What birding allows is to get out of yourself. The birds are not worried about the news. They are just breathing. They are focusing on this moment. There is a lesson to be learned from this.

How many times do you write a week?

A little every day. I write in an unlined diary, in black ink and in italics. He will write seeds of poems, ideas. It also includes my to-do list and my dream recordings.

In The wounded type, you call yourself “a whiner of a long line of cries”. What’s the last thing that made you cry?

I just cried this morning. A friend wrote, “Stay close,” that’s how she finished her e-mail. She made me cry because I felt so grateful for friends and those moments when people have their backs to you.

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Write to Olivia B. Waxman at olivia.waxman@time.com.

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