Thursday, April 23, 2020

the carrying

Ada Limón's The Carrying is an astonishing volume of poetry--the kind of book that seems destined to be discussed and studied for years to come. I appreciated its eloquence and its rigor. It seems like nary a word is wasted. There are many poets who discuss the body, in all its flaws and all, but Limón's descriptions are unnerving in their acuteness. In describing Alzheimer's, recalling Stevens: "There are too many things to hold in the palm of the brain." And in describing the sound of grief in "Prey": "The muffled, ruptured voice of a friend / turns into an electrical signal and breaks open / to tell me her sister has died. A muted pause, / then a heaving. Sounds sucked from lungs." The poem is about the changing of the soul when processing close death and Limón's words help take us there to that seismic moment. In the elegy to Philip Levine, "How We Are Made," she sketches him and his work: "You, with your wiry limbs / of hard verse, inky gap-toothed grin / of gristle and work, you who grimly / told us to stop messing around, / to make this survival matter / like a factory line..." Survival and strength are everywhere in the book, even in the pop sense of "Wonder Woman."  The relations of humans to nature, too, and their own tough, weedy survival--from goldfinches to caverns to trees to suddenly beetles pinned to a board, are also invoked. One poem I read a few times was "Dandelion Insomnia," which houses so many crystalline moments: "A neighbor mows the lawn / and bam, the next morning, there's a hundred / dandelion seed heads straight as arrows / and proud as cats high above any green blade / of manicured grass. It must bug some folks, / a flower so tricky it can reproduce asexually, / making perfect identitcal selves, bam, another me, / bam, another me. I can't help it--I root / for that persecuted rosette so hyper in its / own making it seems to devour the land." There's kind of a cross-section of sophistication and words like "bam" that just ignite throughout. That wordplay. Those linebreaks. That insight. I really admire every poem in this book deeply.

-Jeffery Berg

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