Cassandra de Alba was the first, but not the only, person to recommend I read Ada Limón's Bright Dead Things. Usually, when I like a poet's work, it's because there are lines that stay with me, or I enjoy how they engage with form. Limón's work doesn't fit into either category. Her writing is very straight-forward, most of the poems in this collection are one stanzaed free verse. She's very good at evoking feelings without using any poetic tricks.
I wanted to follow up Phillip B. Williams with someone very different, and, initially started an interaction with a different poet's work, but it didn't inspire prompts or my desire to keep reading it. Limón's book was fairly near it on the shelf, so I picked it up, and immediately remembered why I enjoyed reading her work. The first section of her book is all about place, and how we are affected by our physical geography and changes to it. Prompts flowed right out of this collection. I hope the inspire you.
How To Triumph Like A Girl: Ada Limón prefers lady horses to guy horses. I prefer medium and large dogs to small dogs. Do you have a specific preference that isn’t rooted in prejudice against the other option(s)?
During The Impossible Age Of Everyone: What place is the most important place to you in the world? Not necessarily your home but a place that you would gladly spend a great deal of time in, even if you associate it with painful memories. What was that place like before you were born? After you were born but before you found yourself there? Forget how the place changed you, did you change the place? What do you hope it will be like in the future?
The Last Move: Moving from home to home, city to city can be traumatic for anyone. Or it can be a hugely positive force of change in your life. Citing a specific move, or moves, explain how you get comfortable making a place your own. What things can you not imagine ever getting used to? Did you eventually?
Mowing: What’s your favorite activity that most people label a chore? Why do you enjoy it? Can you imagine other people enjoying it as much as you?
The Rewilding: There remains the mystery of how the pupil devours/so much bastard beauty. Abandoned property.///This land and I are rewilding. Describe yourself as a landscape. How have you changed/are you changing?
The Good Wave: Sometimes watching a sporting event, a movie, or a concert can be disappointing. If you’re fortunate enough to be with family or friends, or acquaintances who have the potential to become friends, you might find conversations to divert yourself from boredom or impending mild sadness. What are these things you talk about? Why do you think they unite you?
Down Here: Different regions of the world, or the nation you live in, or the state/province you grew up in, or even the neighborhood where you were raised, have different colloquialisms. Describe your first encounter with a phrase that you either embraced in your vernacular, or else absolutely loathe, and refuse to ever say.
How Far Away We Are: Oh, the weather. Sometimes it’s too hot to even consider going outside and moving. Sometimes it’s too cold to fathom going outside at all. But we do. We throw on layers of clothes and trek to our jobs, or we pack our bathing suits and breezy shirts and head out to a lake, a beach, some shady park, an air conditioned movie theater. Why do you brave the elements when you could just stay at home and regulate your temperature to the best of your ability? Or do you? Have there been times when you’ve stayed at home while the people you care about folly into extreme weather? Or are there times when your friends or family think you’re crazy because the weather doesn’t affect you the way it affects them? Talk about the weather and whether you choose to let it control you.
The Quiet Machine: I have a friend who I very much care about who rarely responds to texts, calls, or e-mails. Not just with me (I can take a hint, Frank!) but with everyone. But, in person, they only stop talking to engage in active listening. This dichotomy of their level of communication can be extremely frustrating, even when you think you’ve gotten used to it. What is your stillness like? When do you go quiet? Or do you feel you’re mostly quiet? In that case, what makes you get loud?
I Remember The Carrots: Kids are socially stupid. It’s inherent. Even your genius niece, who gets along so well with other children as soon as she meets them, messes up occasionally. We need to be taught the nuances of how to be considerate people. Tell about a time when you were small and did something wrong, and were caught and scolded for it. Did you rebel against this idea? Defend your actions? Cry? Promise yourself you’d never do anything like it again? Have you done anything like it again? Now that you are older, have you ever been the person who witnesses and must deal with the repercussions of a child’s social error? Did it remind you of your own mistakes? Did you factor this into how you interacted with the child? Do you wish you’d done it differently?
The Tree Of Fire: Have you ever been in a place that you frequently inhabit/travel to, and suddenly notice something about the place that you didn’t notice before? Did it change your perception of the place? Did it change your perception of yourself for failing to notice it previously?
Someplace Like Montana: Life sometimes feels long and unexpectable. There are places we could never imagine ourselves going. What are those places for you? Where can you not imagine ever calling home? Why?
State Bird: In the United States, every state has a state bird, a state motto, a state song, a demonym (what you call people from that state), an export they’re famous for. Do you know yours? Why do you or don’t you know yours? Did learning about them change the way you felt about the state where you were born/where you live now/where you (once) consider(ed) home?
Downhearted: Have your opening line/image be something that you think is clearly either incredibly sad or incredibly funny (or both if you’re that sort of person). Deconstruct why you think it brings out that emotion in you. Does it bring out that same emotion in other people? Has there ever been a time when you felt someone had The Wrong Emotional Reaction to something that you thought was universal? How did you handle that?
Miracle Fish: When I was in my single digit years, I went to a Catholic graduation ceremony where kids my age, who’d passed some sort of course, lined up and received eucharist for the first time. I thought all the kids were supposed to do this, so I lined up along with them, even though I wasn’t Catholic. The priest knew this, and even though I followed the ritual that other children were doing, the priest shook his head when I put out my hands. I wasn’t ashamed that I wasn’t allowed what was probably crappy bread and cranberry juice; I was ashamed that nobody warned me that the ritual wasn’t for me. Have you ever misunderstood a ritual? Maybe you didn’t know that someone like you was not supposed to engage it, or maybe you were invited but you did it wrong. How did it make you feel? Did you ever attempt the ritual again?
The Saving Tree: Describe an area you’ve been to where something looked out of place. It might be a giant piece of technology sticking out of an otherwise natural looking landscape, or a bright pink house amongst a street of beige. Which do you appreciate more: the place or the thing that doesn’t look like it belongs?
What It Looks Like To Us And The Words We Use: Buildings are abandoned all the time. What abandoned type of property would you most like to own. What would you do with it?
Taking a break from Homage Poems for a bit. My initial read-through of Ada Limon's Bright Dead Things didn't inspire anything in me. So I must have been in a terrible mood.
Much like Martin Espada's Imagine The Angels Of Bread, the book starts with a poem I imagine hearing on stage at a slam-related open mic. It's written very accessibly and it deals with the sort of stories and issues people at a slam-related open mic will be quick to cheer for. But as the book goes on it becomes increasingly interesting and more complex.
And I'm always a sucker for a well-written poem about insomnia.
The Tongue Blanket Of Dreaming
I'd like to take a nap.
But not a nap that's eternal,
a nap where you wake up
having dreamt of falling, but
you've only fallen into
an ease so unkown to you
it looks like a new country.
-- Ada Limon, "The Noisiness Of Sleep"
When i grew too exhausted to tip-toe
between the dragons I curled myself into a lozenge
Intent on melting away
on the foulest dragon's tongue I slept
like an accusation against someone you love
the precious treasure was time
i could scale against my chest Of course
i dreamed that i had become my scythe-toothed shelter
Don't we all dream of being our own
killer or savior
An ongoing conversation between writers and the text that they're reading.