Tuesday, June 21, 2016
Review of Ada Limon's "Bright Dead Things"
I first read Limon’s poem How To Triumph Like a Girl in a magazine called The Sun—a weird little creative writing periodical that was sent to my home probably by accident, and in which I connected with very little until I stumbled upon Limon’s masterpiece. If you haven’t read it, you need to. The poem, not The Sun. God, not The Sun. The poem had an emphasis on woman-power, but as a man I felt equally inspired and in awe of human strength and self-belief.
I read a lot of poetry, but this little beauty stopped my world's rotation for a few minutes. So simple and profound. I nibbled on it for days like a sustaining trail mix in a hostile jungle. Poetry as condensed, creative, and courageous words are important to those of us who feel like we don’t have enough genius or time to catch all the ideas and feelings that run like water through unconscious fingers.
Wait a minute. That was genius. I want to thank my family, my editor, the Academy, and any one of the gods of the top ten religions.
So, I bought the book. Many of the poems in this book delivered the same seismic wallop as “How To Triumph...” Limon is great at appreciating life while complaining about the sucky stuff in a way that doesn’t completely coagulate into mere bitchiness. It’s crude enough to be authentic, but even when it gets a little weird (e.g., squatting to pee in the poem “Service”), it feels like it was about time for someone to piss on the rules. (Pardon the phun…I did mention I’m a certified genius, write?)
I loved Limon’s criticism of the evasiveness and self-loathing of many constricting forms of religious belief. Life is inscrutable but beautiful, and life lived with open-eyed hopefulness—“the sweet continuance of birth and flight in a place so utterly reckless…How masterful and mad is hope”—is infinitely preferable to adopting a traditional faith by which one can pretend to “fix their problems with prayer and property.”
The benefits of her humanistic/naturalistic/agnostic life include:
“…[a] new way of living with the world inside of us so we cannot lose it, and we cannot be lost.”
“…nesting my head in the blood of my body…I relied on a Miracle Fish, once…that was before I knew it was by my body’s water that moved it, that the massive ocean inside me was what made fish swim.”
The coup de grace to fundamentalist religion arrives in a description about a time in her life when she tried believing in prayer as tradition suggests, but she couldn’t make it work.
“There was a sign and it said, This earth is blessed. Do not play in it. But I swear I will play on this blessed earth until I die.”
Sounds like a good idea.
The play part. Not the die part.