Ada Limón on How We’ll Never Truly Understand the Mystery of Being Alive


This week on The Maris Review, Ada Limón joins Maris Kreizman to discuss her new collection, The Hurting Kind, out now from Milkweed Editions.

Subscribe and download the episode, wherever you get your podcasts.

On how the pandemic inspired her collection:

I don’t know how you are, but for me, a question comes up and then it appears again and again. Like, this is something that is clearly circling my mind, my body, my world. This particular question was about what it was to be in the world not just as the person that witnesses, but as an animal being that is witnessed and is a part of something. And that was really essential to putting together the collection and putting together the book as a whole: the idea of connectedness but not always being the person that is the watcher.

I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that these poems were written over the past four to five years and of course some of these poems directly responded to and are in conversation with the pandemic. It’s that kind of deep looking that the isolation gave me, which was also a feeling of how do I build a community when even neighbors aren’t taking walks together and there’s sort of no way to reach out and feel touched and feel bonded to someone else. A lot of that was figuring out how to be a part of nature, but also understanding that the mystery of being alive is that we will never fully understand what it is that’s going on in the animal mind. I can never look at a tree and go, “I know exactly what the name of that tree is.” Because the tree might have some other idea of what its name is. The more I age and surrender to this life and hopefully to an idea of longevity I am more and more at sea in terms of what it is we just don’t know about one another.

On how poetry allows her to reframe her life:

One of the true joys of poetry is going back into your own personal history and exploring it and mining it. And also, really essentially, reframing it. I think that’s important for me just as a human being sometimes, to remember what it is to be in something that was more toxic or traumatic or whatever, and then also how do I move into gratitude for where I am now and what that taught me and what I could’ve asked for or returned to. I think reframing is really important for me in my life, so it shows up in my work…

Often if I’m thinking about how I miss a certain thing, I’m very rarely nostalgic for who I was. She was great and she did as well as she could with the tools she had. But now there’s a little bit more of a groundedness going on that I appreciate.

Recommended Reading:

Extracting the Stone of Madness by Alejandra Pizarnik • All the Flowers Kneeling by Paul Tran • The Renunciations by Donika Kelly • Customs by Solmaz Sharif


Ada Limón is the author of The Hurting Kind, as well as five other collections of poems. These include, most recently, The Carrying, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award and was named a finalist for the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award, and Bright Dead Things, which was named a finalist for the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Kingsley Tufts Award. Limón is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, and her work has appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times, and American Poetry Review, among others. She is the new host of American Public Media’s weekday poetry podcast The Slowdown. Born and raised in California, she now lives in Lexington, Kentucky.