‘Find the thing that delights you the most and then not be scared to fail’: U.S. Poet Laureate reads her work at WKU


Sean McInnis

2022 US Poet Laureate Ada Limón reads a poem during a poetry reading event at the WKU Fine Arts Complex on Monday, Feb. 27, 2023. Limón is the author of six books of poetry, including The Carrying, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry.

Michael Crimmins, Adminstration reporter

“A horse gives way to another

horse and then suddenly there are two horses,

just like that. That’s how I loved you… 

It came out fully formed, ready to run.”

These words were penned by Ada Limón in the poem “What I Didn’t Know Before”, the 24th Poet Laureate of the United States. Dozens and dozens of people, old and young, Western Kentucky University students and non-students alike weaved through the labyrinth-like halls of the Ivan Wilson Fine Arts Center to hear Limón read some of her poems and answer their questions.

The event took place in FAC’s recital hall that seated roughly 140 people, with almost every seat filled. Students from the Dean’s Council of Students greeted people at the door with masks, as Limón requested.

Limón was named the 24th Poet Laureate of the United States by the Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden, in 2022. A distinction that not only comes with a $35,000 annual stipend but one that still “flattens her to say out loud.” She is the first Latina to be named U.S. Poet Laureate since the position was created in 1937.

Limón is the author of six books of poetry, including “The Carrying,” which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry, and “The Hurting Kind,” published in May of last year.

Limón is originally from Sonoma, California, and attended drama school at the University of Washington. Later in life she moved to Lexington, where she has lived for 12 years. To Limon, green is the most creative color, she said, and Kentucky has a lot of it.

“It has been one of the most beautiful places to live and to write and to hopefully flourish,” Limón said. “One of the bigger things I have really wanted to bring to the Poet Laureate position is representing Kentucky in the best light, in the best way I know possible.”

According to Limón, she remembers writing her first poem at 14 and called her father to read it aloud to him, but it wasn’t until junior and senior year of college that she thought “this is it” for poetry as “an artform she carried through her life.”

Terrance Brown, dean of Potter College of Arts and Letters, opened the event to a standing round of applause. He encouraged the audience to dispel their “preconceived notions” about poetry and to experience her poems during the hour-long event.

“I thank you all for coming out and celebrating with us a wonderful opportunity to elevate the consciousness of our campus and our community,” Brown said. “Her ability to highlight truth through texts in my opinion is one of her greatest gifts. With these truths she’s able to bring forth the suppressed pains of humanity to the surface so they find light and healing.”

Again the crowd stood and applauded as Limón walked to the podium to read a selection of ten poems from “The Carrying” and “The Hurting Kind.” Afterwards, she asked the audience if there were any questions they had for her. They asked her numerous questions ranging from her emotions in her poems, her writing process and the publishing process.

She said to not be afraid to take “the leap” for art if a person feels a calling, be it theatre, dance, music or the written word.

“The biggest thing as far as anyone who wanted to be an artist and didn’t know how to go about it was to find the thing that delights you the most and then not be scared to fail at it over and over again,” Limón said. “I think that when you find the thing that really brings you joy and makes you feel alive, you should do it and it doesn’t really matter if someone says ‘no you’re not allowed to do that’ or ‘that’s not the thing for you.’”

She added that taking the leap does not mean a person couldn’t have another job saying, “your poems don’t want you to be hungry” and that a person can have a job without sacrificing the art.

“It’s not about the death of a dream to give up another thing,” Limón said. “Instead it’s about finding a balance.”

While she said her poems have no one theme running throughout, Limón said her poems are just about “being alive” and can be inspired by a sound, a feeling or a person. One thing she said she has learned over 20 years of writing poetry and now as Poet Laureate is that poetry can be “a breath when we need a breath.” 

“We think again and again ‘oh, poetry should do one thing’ like it should provide hope or it should do this but it doesn’t have to do any of those things,” Limón said. “All poetry is supposed to do is to remind us that we feel.”

Towards the end, Limón said what inspired her the most was our mortality and the fleetingness of a person’s “moment.” 

“It’s that we’re alive and we’re going to die […] and I think that’s insane,” Limón said. “I think about it all the time. That we are living beings in this beautiful time and we have this moment, and it will end. That’s what brings me to the page more than anything.

Corene Hopper, a sophomore studying English literature, said she came without expectations but was excited to have the opportunity to see Limón. She also said she was excited to see “how poetry can be used to improve the world around us.”

According to Jessica Luna, communications & events specialist for Potter College of Arts & Letters, Limón came as part of the cultural enhancement series which began in 2020 but was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We started with this idea of Kentucky unexpected, so we started looking at people that were unexpected when you thought about Kentucky […] we said ‘wait a minute, the U.S. Poet Laureate lives in Kentucky, lives in Lexington,’” Luna said. “So we thought she’d be the perfect person to come to [WKU].”

Administration reporter Michael Crimmins can be reached at [email protected].