Zoe Tomlin ’27
On Nov. 2, Scripps Presents welcomed Ada Limón to the Garrison Theater stage for a poetry reading, followed by a conversation with Lynne Thompson ’72. Limón is the 24th Poet Laureate of the United States. She is currently serving her term by speaking at events, working on a poetry anthology with the National Parks Service titled You Are Here, and working with NASA to send a poem into space with the Europa Clipper spacecraft. Thompson is a former Poet Laureate of Los Angeles, and sits on the Scripps College Board of Trustees.
The event commenced with a greeting and introduction of the night’s guests from the Director of Events and Conference Services at Scripps College, Marcy Robinson. Thompson walked onto the stage, followed by Limón, who made her way to the podium.
“I really do think that poetry can be an opportunity to grieve, and it can also be an opportunity to resurrect parts of ourselves,” Limón said as she began the presentation. It was Dia de los Muertos, a holiday with deep significance for her, so she even brought her shrine and photos with her from Lexington, Kentucky, to Claremont.
At the podium, Limón read a series of poems embodying resurrection in its different forms. “Relentless” was a resurrection for her stepmother, Cynthia, and “Field Bling” was a “resurrection of the self.” Her poem “Sacred Objects” was a resurrection of the body, and “Drowning Creek” was a backstage request from Thompson.
She concluded with a heartfelt reading of her piece “The End of Poetry,” her gestures growing emphatic with the last few lines: “enough of can you see me, can you hear me, enough/ I am human, enough I am alone and I am desperate,/ 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.” Her arms worked with her voice, as though she were conducting an orchestra, to convey the depth of her feelings. Listening from the audience, it was clear that Limón was born to be a poet.
The pauses between her readings were peppered with witty statements; referring to herself in the third person, Limón remarked on the intimacy and depth of her words, saying, “It’s like she thinks she’s alone.” Just as she spoke, a loud noise came from the theater lobby and Thompson commented, “Or is she?” The irony garnered many laughs.
A blaring round of applause concluded the reading, and Limón joined Thompson to sit down for a conversation. They began by speaking on the “interconnectedness of the human and the nonhuman.” Limón often thinks about “all of our animalness,” and to her, it is strange that we do not talk about it more often. “I joked about being up there alone, but I never feel alone because of the trees and grass and earth and animals, and I love that if you sit long enough, everything is alive,” she said.
Thompson then asked her about her thoughts on the possibility of poetry as a healing agent, an idea Limón had mentioned in a speech at the Library of Congress. Limón’s answer echoed her opening remarks: poetry can be an opportunity to grieve. For Limón, grief is too often ignored in our culture, and though grief is not healing, it is a necessary element of the healing journey. She discussed the “business of death” and the obsession with “moving on” from loss. Poetry allows for stillness, processing, and eventual healing.
Limón has experienced her share of things to grieve; her beloved grandmother passed away last month. The day after her passing, Limón was awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant. When Thompson asked about it, Limón prefaced her response with a question for the audience: “Does anyone answer their phone when they don’t know the number?” One person raised their hand, and Thompson called them a “trusting soul,” eliciting laughter from the audience.
Limón continued to explain how, when the MacArthur Foundation called her, she thought they were “the headstone people” for her grandmother. Once they realized that calling was a lost cause, the foundation emailed Limón, asking her to speak on someone else’s behalf, to which she said of course. She explained, “I got on the phone, and they said, ‘Actually, that was a ruse – you’ve won a MacArthur Genius Grant.’”
Thompson’s final question for Limón was directed toward the students in the audience. She asked, “What can you share with our students about … whatever passion they have in life – how do they pursue that passion in a world that says, ‘Get a job, be practical, and don’t follow those passions?’” Limón replied that, in reality, it is about “wholeness.” There is no singular thing in life – passion, work, grieving, joy – everything is interconnected. She has always had a job, but she has also always written poems. If anything, the other aspects of her life are what make her art meaningful.
Image Source: Aanji Sin ’24