Ada Limón’s reading was the most professional and polished reading I have attended so far for this course, and while I enjoyed her performance, I left with more questions than I began the evening with.
Ada’s presentation of her work and her ability to “work the crowd” reflected a strong and practised professionality. Ada is a well known poet and no doubt performs numerous readings so it is no wonder she is comfortable with her banter between poems (even during them!). Her overall presentation was engaging, she spoke with a clear and measured style, and she came across as a very “nice” person, someone who reminds me of that kind aunt whose visits are greatly anticipated.
Yet it was her measured and polished presentation, along with her easy and charming personality which left me confused. Her poems, most of which were from her book Bright Dead Things, did not seem to match up to the kind, funny lady reading comfortably in front of a crowded room where only moments before, in a posh lounge adjoining the hall, a piano player fingered away the sort of classical jazz you would hear in a private country club. Could this be the same poet who lifts up her shirt or squats to pee with a pit bull bitch in a garage? Is this sweet, impeccably (though still casually) dressed lady the sort of person who talks about her “first full-fledged fuck”?
And it was exactly this dissonance between poet and poem which I have been struggling with since I first read the entirety of Bright Dead Things. When I began her book I knew nothing of the poet and assumed she was a white lady from somewhere in California and Kentucky whose interests were fairly typical of the white, middle class experience: pop culture (“a big-voiced singer found dead in her London flat.”), people mowing their lawns, domestic affairs – to be honest I initially assumed this was the sort of poetry for the not-too-bad-off wine drinking ladies, a stereotype for sure, but my honest first impression. There did not seem to be a strong character in the book, and all the poems ended with a strong conclusion as if something had been figured out – as if the purpose of art was solving equations and writing platitudes.
Yet the more I thought about this disconnect between poet and book, and reader and poems, the more I came to realize that her very un-remarkability might be at the very core of what she is trying to express. Thinking back to my initial stereotype of whom the poet might be speaks to how easy it is to judge a person, how easy it is to assume that kind aunt of ours only spends all day drinking wine with friends who tip-toe through antique shops before going home at night to a few cats and an herbal tea. How generic I must think the people I’m more closely related to: middle class Americans. How have I had no understanding that these are the same people who fuck and piss like a “hard bitch”, who have fears and worries that, while not as dramatic as a march for civil rights or time spent saving children in Syria, are no less valid.
And so while I left Ada’s reading with more questions than I went in with, they are questions of myself, questions about what do I really know about what the people around me are going through, questions about why I want to placing more worth on some extreme display of civic demonstration over the simple life of a kind, well-spoken poet who has lost family members, lives in Kentucky, and simply just wants to live. Does all art, or in fact do all people need to spend all their energy fighting the system, is it not hard enough just to get through our own, simple lives without someone judging us for not doing enough, for not living up to some sort of unrealistic expectation?
I feel I have a lot of soul searching to do, and I am grateful to Ada Limón for reminding me of the struggle and complexity inside even the kindest, and most beautifully average person.