The Poet Laureate The Poet Laureate The Poet Laureate

Ada Limón, the United States' official poet, still holds the UW in her heart

By Chris Talbott | Photos courtesy of the Library of Congress | September 2022

In July, Ada Limón was caught by surprise. The School of Drama graduate had a growing fan base for her effervescent poetry, had so far published six celebrated volumes and had won a National Book Award. But she had no idea she was on the cusp of being named U.S. Poet Laureate.

In the first weeks after the announcement, she was so inundated with interview requests, she had to take a pause. “It is a very weird thing,” Limón says. “I will say that you do not go into poetry for the fame or the money. So that there are people who recognize who I am, that recognize my work and my words, is really extraordinary on many different levels.”

Luckily Limón, ’98, came out of her media timeout to share insight into her art and her pivotal time at the UW.

What is essential to a great poem?

Really great poems can surprise us and move us in unexpected ways. A great poem often has the perfect combination of music, story and emotional content. So it’s matching all three of those things all at once, and they come together in a harmonious way that feels sort of indescribable. You can’t figure out what it is that you love about it, but somehow you’re moved to tears or you’re moved to laugh or you’re suddenly, like, “Oh, I feel more in my body,” or, “I feel more connected to the world.” There’s some sort of indescribable moment or experience that the reader goes through, and it’s usually because those three things are working together, and in ways that are surprising. I feel like the best poems can really change a whole day. And sometimes they can change your whole life.

How has the news and the response changed things for you?

It’s a sort of a balancing act of protecting that artist in me that just wants to sit in my PJs and write poems. You know, pet the cat and the dog and weep a little and read a poem. And then there’s part of me that wants to go out there and help to spread the message of poetry, to elevate poetry, to really help others recognize that it’s a tool we can use to help heal ourselves, especially right now when we need so much healing.

What did you take away from your time at the UW?

The UW is very much in my heart. One of the things that was really important to me was that I didn’t know quite how to find my footing at the University to start because, as you know, it’s enormous and I’m from a small town—Sonoma, California. The population of the UW is bigger than my hometown. I had to figure out where I fit. And I found the artists. That was my first experience in my life where it was like, oh, seek out the creative people and then you will find your community, and that’s what I did. And the UW is such a wonderful mix of different artists. I took almost every dance class you could take. I have a degree in theater. I took all the classes that you could take in the theater department, including sound design. And then, really, I was running out of electives inside those two departments, and they sort of pushed me out. They were like, “You need to go somewhere else and to take something else and be more well-rounded,” and that’s when I found creative writing.


By Ada Limón

Easy light storms in through the window, soft
edges of the world, smudged by mist, a squirrel’s

    nest rigged high in the maple. I’ve got a bone
to pick with whomever is in charge. All year,

I’ve said, You know what’s funny? and then,
    Nothing, nothing is funny. Which makes me laugh

    in an oblivion-is-coming sort of way. A friend
writes the word lover in a note and I am strangely

excited for the word lover to come back. Come back
lover, come back to the five and dime. I could

    squeal with the idea of blissful release, oh lover,
what a word, what a world, this gray waiting. In me,

a need to nestle deep into the safe-keeping of sky.
I am too used to nostalgia now, a sweet escape

    of age. Centuries of pleasure before us and after
us, still right now, a softness like the worn fabric of a nightshirt

and what I do not say is, I trust the world to come back.
Return like a word, long forgotten and maligned

    for all its gross tenderness, a joke told in a sun beam,
the world walking in, ready to be ravaged, open for business.


From “The Hurting Kind” by Ada Limón
(Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2022).
Copyright © 2022 by Ada Limón.
Reprinted with permission from Milkweed Editions.