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Jumping fences with U.S. Poet Laureate Ada Limón

Poetry lovers of all ages reveled in the company of Ada Limón, the U.S. poet laureate and first Latina to be so named, on the evening of Feb. 10. During her time at Emory, she also met with students to discuss poetry and writing.

The 12th Night Revel, a fundraiser for the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, was held at the Emory Conference Center, the first opportunity since the pandemic for revelers to do what they do best: read from well-thumbed works of favorite poets or try out original poems they have written.

Raised in Sonoma, California, of Mexican and European ancestry, Limón is the author of six books of poetry, including her most recent, “The Hurting Kind” (2022), and “The Carrying” (2018), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry. Her book “Bright Dead Things” (2015) was a finalist for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award and was nominated for the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. 

Limón read Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “One Art” at age 15 and felt marked in that moment as a poet. As she describes her path to the highest perch in poetry, serving as poet laureate, she notes that it was “anything but ordinary. I’m either deep in the bottom of the well or nowhere near water.” 

At 12th Night, it could be hard to pick Limón out; there were poets and lovers of poetry ringing the room. President Gregory L. Fenves gave remarks, as did Ravi V. Bellamkonda, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, and they both read favorite poems. So too did faculty, students and Emory’s Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Jericho Brown, Charles Howard Candler Professor of English and Creative Writing, who read a new poem, “Sitcom.”

Limón and Brown are friends, editing one another’s work and celebrating each other’s victories. Brown revealed that when he won the Pulitzer Prize, one of his first texts was from Limón, who needed just three words to convey her joy: “Told you so.”

Limon read six poems, including “My Father’s Mustache,”“A New National Anthem,” and “The Mountain Lion.” The latter, a favorite in her oeuvre, starts with Limón watching a video of a mountain lion sizing up a six-foot fence “like it was nothing but a speed bump.” As the poem’s final lines attest:

It was just that I don’t think I’ve

ever made anything look so easy. Never

looked behind me and grinned or

grimaced because nothing could stop

me. I like the idea of it though, felt

like a dream you could will into being:

See a fence? Jump it.

On Saturday, she gave a free public reading at Glenn Memorial Auditorium, sharing more than a dozen poems with a near-capacity crowd that included a sizeable turnout of Emory students. After her reading, which she interspersed with disarming personal anecdotes, she signed autographs for attendees who waited in a line that ran the entire length of the sanctuary.

Photos by Sarah Woods and Stephen Nowland, Emory Photo/Video.

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