Cover Photo: On the left is the cover of Ada Limón's book. The cover is a light grey abstract painting. The book cover is set against a bright background of yellow flowers. On the right is a photograph of Limón at a wood table wearing a black shirt with yellow flowers.
Author photograph by Lucas Marquardt, book cover via Milkweed Editions, forsythia photograph by Bill Benzon/Flickr

For Ada Limón, We’re All the Hurting Kind

In this interview, Eliza Harris speaks with Ada Limón about her new poetry collection, the failure of language, and finding the will to begin again.

Ada Limón’s highly anticipated sixth book of poetry, The Hurting Kind, is out this month through Milkweed Editions. This collection is a testament to survival, to the will to go on and to the way the world goes on without us. In it, Limón roots for the underdog: the flowering weed, the heartbroken teenager, the falcon supported by a twig-like branch, the thing almost dead / that is in fact not / dead at all.” Reading these poems brings the world into such focus that you can’t help but feel more tethered to it, receptive to its hurt and attuned to its wonder.  

collection

Eliza Harris: I noticed a number of times in past interviews and podcasts where you touched on the importance of music in your life. I was interested to learn from The Poetry Salon that you came to poetry partly through reading record liner notes as a child, and more recently, for The Slowdown, you described singing along to songs as one way you’ve coped during the pandemic. I’m curious who you’ve found yourself singing along to, especially while writing this book, and are there particular musicians that have impacted your writing? 

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EH: At the heart of this new collection is our interconnection with each other, our ancestors, and the natural world. I’m interested in that theme in relation to the pandemic and the isolation we’ve each felt. If you’re comfortable sharing, what effect has the pandemic had on your poetry?

this biglet’s just pretend this never happened

EH: There are also moments in this book where you express a feeling of deep separateness from the world. For instance, in Sanctuary,” when you write, “I have, before, been // tricked into believing / I could be both an I / and the world.” Along with that feeling of community, does being such an attentive witness ever create distance between you and the world around you? 

AL: That’s very true; sometimes the witnessing makes you feel so connected, and sometimes you just realize how separate your human life is from a tree life or animal life. I feel like acknowledging that separateness is also acknowledging that connectedness. In order to recognize that I am animal too, I have to take away the hubris that makes me believe that I understand the world of nature, that I understand the bird’s mind or the tree’s workings. Even though we have incredible environmental scientists and incredible knowledge of the natural world, every day we learn something new that’s mysterious and awe-inspiring. I think recognizing that separateness is also a way of showing respect, a way of valuing that isn’t about personification.

EH: You’ve spoken in the past about learning the names of animals and plants as a way of honoring them, and you take great care to name the flora and fauna that appear in this collection. On the other hand, there are times in this book when names feel insufficient or inaccurate. I’m thinking of the poem “Calling Things What They Are,” where you write: “How funny / that I called it love and the whole time it was pain.” Could you talk about that tension around naming in your poetry?

save

I am in a redwood forestHoly crap, look at these redwood trees! What are these things?

EH: I’m so glad you brought up the last poem in this collection, “The End of Poetry,” which concludes with the lines “enough of the animal saving me, enough of the high / water, enough sorrow, / enough of the air and its ease, / I am asking you to touch me.” Tell me about this title and how this poem came to be.

What can poems do for me right now?

endbeenough

EH: I read that title, “The End of Poetry,” as both the limit of poetry and the aim of poetry. Do you think there is an aim that underlies your poems?

EH: I’m curious about poetry as healing in relation to the title of this book, which comes from a poem of the same name where you write, “I have always been too sensitive, a weeper / from a long line of weepers. // I am the hurting kind.” What does it mean to you to be “the hurting kind”?

EH: The covers of your books are so emotive and fit them each so well. It was lovely to learn that all of your covers are paintings by your mother. Could you talk about that collaboration? What is it that draws you to her work for these collections?

The Hurting Kindthe spectrum of human emotionsinterconnectednessgrief the natural worldThis is it

This is an image of the book covers of Limón's last three poetry collections. All the covers are abstract paintings. The Hurting Kind is a variation of dull gray, The Carring has bright brushstrokes of red, blue, and white, and Bright Dead Things is a mix of orange and light brown.

EH: What was your experience of creating this collection compared to your first book of poetry?

Just connect with the people you trust so that you can truly be the artist you want to be.

EH: I can feel that vulnerability and directness in the book—it’s almost like an intimate correspondence. It reminded me of your poems written as letters back and forth with Natalie Diaz. Were there people or places that, more than imagining as a reader, you were actually writing these poems to?

what’s next, what’s next

So many of us are the hurting kind, but we’re not allowed to be it.

EH: So many people, after they finish a project, are haunted by the question Where do find the will to begin again?

That’s it, I’m never going to write a poem againThe Hurting Kind

EH: What’s on your horizon, either in terms of work or life outside of work?

Beast

EH: [laughter] Well whenever they do come out, I look forward to reading them.

Eliza Harris is an editorial assistant for Catapult, Social Media Manager + Assistant Poetry Editor for DIAGRAM, and Director of Communications for The Speakeasy Project. She grew up in Durham, North Carolina, and is now based in Seattle, Washington. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @elizaeharris.