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“How Odd it is that Your Brain Follows You”: An Interview with Ada Limón

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The following is a guest post by Anastasia Nikolis, poetry editor of our online Interview Series, introducing the newest addition to the series: an interview with Ada Limón. On Tuesday, January 29, Ada Limón will discuss her work with Ron Charles, book critic at The Washington Post, as part of the Life of Poet series at the Hill Center at the Old Naval Hospital in Washington, DC. This event is free and open to the public, but reservations are required.

Ada Limón. Photo credit: Lucas Marquardt.

I first learned about Ada Limón when I stumbled across her poem, “How To Triumph Like a Girl.” The poem is a cry of female empowerment. Opening with the line “I like the lady horses best,” she talks about how powerful female horses can be and the speeds at which they run. Who doesn’t love a good rallying cry?

But this cry wasn’t what made me love the poem. What I loved was how she taught me to find something I loved in a poem and then keep moving. After celebrating the power of horses, the tone of the poem shifts and Limón sheepishly admits: “let’s be honest, I like/ that they’re ladies. As if this big/ dangerous animal is also a part of me.”

The prose poem doesn’t rely on its line breaks. It doesn’t ask the reader to linger over one insight or another. It moves along so quickly that the poem is over before you fully understand what it just said… Did she just say that I might have some of the same power that this strong, fast, powerful horse does, just because we are both female? What a surreal insight!

Poetry has a reputation of being turned to for wisdom or insight, or in the words of Ezra Pound, to make something new. Limón’s poem gave me a new insight—is power transferable because of some other, unrelated, shared connection? But it doesn’t stew on or aggrandize that insight. It seems to exhale that insight precisely so that it could go on to breathe in something else and exhale another insight after that.

In her interview, Limón explains how she distrusts the wise poem that tries to answer or offer something. She says, “there are times when a poem only needs to point out something. It only needs to say, Look, Hear, Feel, Be. And other times it needs to loop and wobble and interrogate and maybe even transform the moment into something larger.” Limón points out this insight, elaborates on it by describing how strange it would be if a human woman gained that power by having a horse heart instead of her own, and then asks “Don’t you want to believe it?”

The poem moves past the insight of transferring power and moves on to a hope for belief. The poem moves from looking at the horses for insight and wobbles on to question belief in that insight. Limón writes poems so that your mind is still thinking about what it has moved through while it moves on to the next line, the next insight, and the next poem in the book. Her poems taught me how to be comfortable with just pointing out an insight and moving past it. But more than that, she taught me how odd it is that your brain accrues insights and forgets them, only to have the insights recur later on.

In this newest interview in the Interview Series, Limón talks about the book, Bright Dead Things, in which “How to Triumph Like a Girl” appears, as well as about her new book, The Carrying. She talks about how poems make things new, surreal, and interesting: how they can provide something to mull over for a long time. But she also celebrates the strange ways that poems keep moving. I hope you will come to enjoy how much Ada Limón’s poems do both by showing us how odd it is that our brains follow us as we keep moving on to new insights.