The United States Poet Laureate Ada Limón, with her latest collection of poetry, The Hurting Kind, invites readers into the intricate tapestry of the human experience, exploring the depths of our most animalistic instincts and their inherent connection to the world around us. Limón’s poetic exploration unfolds as a response to the complexities of existence in a world that changes faster than humanity’s capacities to adapt, delicately balancing the joys and sufferings inherent in the human condition into a tapestry that is deeply concrete and relatable. Limón’s distinct voice, characterised by keen observations of nature and a profound connection to the senses and the seasons, weaves a narrative that resonates deeply in our collective consciousness, especially in the context of a world exiting a global pandemic but faced with many other crises.
The California-born author emerged into the literary stage with her earlier works, namely Sharks in the Rivers, The Carrying, and Bright Dead Things, and eventually rose to fame in July 2022, when the Librarian of the American Congress Carla Hayden appointed her the 24th United States Poet Laureate, eventually renewing her term in April 2023. Throughout Limón’s literary journey, her poetic evolution is evident, with each collection showcasing her mastery of language and her ability to skilfully navigate the depths of vulnerability and empathy.
At the heart of The Hurting Kind is a poignant exploration of the human experience, with themes that resonate universally. Limón confronts isolation, grief, and the uncertainties of life, providing a nuanced perspective on the shared struggles of humanity. The collection is divided into four sections, mirroring the seasons, guiding the reader through the ebb and flow of life but also reflecting the cyclical nature of human emotions. Limón’s keen awareness of the natural world infuses the collection with a profound sense of concreteness. Her poems celebrate the ordinary, finding beauty in the mundane aspects of life, and through the lens of her observant eye, which is often busy elevating the essence of nature and her creatures, she masterfully captures the essence of the changing seasons and wildlife, as well as the fleeting moments that define our existence as emotional beings.
“[…] Why am I not allowed
to delight? A stranger writes to request my thoughts
on suffering. Barbed wire pulled out of the mouth […]”
She declares in Give Me This, the opener to the collection, underlining the primal and uncontrollable joy that arises once we reconnect with the world around us. Yet, Limón’s engagement with nature goes beyond mere observation; it becomes a mirror reflecting the poet’s internal landscape, and The Hurting Kind often skilfully delves into the personification of nature. For instance, in Sanctuary, Limón navigates the complexities of fulfilment through the willingness to become one with nature itself in a sort of return to the roots:
“Suppose it’s easy to slip
into another’s green skin,
bury yourself in leaves
and wait for a breaking […]”
One of the most notable characteristics of Limón’s works, which emerged prominently in her collection Bright Dead Things, is her nuanced exploration of optimism in the face of adversity and the darkness of the world. Limón’s acknowledgment of the pervasive darkness of the universe is perfectly encapsulated in Invasive where the author confesses that:
“[…] to say
I weep is untrue, weep is too
musical of a word. I heave
into the soil […]”.
In The Hurting Kind, Ada Limón invites readers on a profound journey through the landscapes of emotion, blending the personal and the universal with grace and introspection. The collection showcases Limón’s resilience as a poet, her willingness to confront the uncertainties of life, and her ability to find solace in the beauty of the everyday. As the world grapples with ongoing challenges, Limón’s poetry serves as a welcome companion, offering a form of communion that transcends the boundaries of isolation and touches the loneliest parts of our souls.
Limón’s latest collection is a testament to the enduring power of poetry to illuminate the human experience, providing readers with a mirror to reflect upon their own joys, sorrows, and the intricate tapestry of existence. Ada Limón’s exploration of the hurting kind—the sensitive, the overly emotional, the dramatic, is an embrace that encourages readers to find strength in vulnerability and beauty in the midst of life’s inevitable pains.