Poet Ada Limon and the Power of Reciting Aloud

Before we humans wrote poetry, we recited it aloud. And renowned poet Ada Limón showed the Charlotte community the power and beauty of the oral tradition by reading her own work last month. The English Department Reading Series, the Arts at Queens, and Charlotte Center for Literary Arts (Charlotte Lit) hosted students, faculty, staff, and community members in the Gambrell Center’s Sandra Levine Theatre.

People piled into the theatre to hear Limón read, listening to her poems about anything from horses birthing tinier horses, to living in New York under an esteemed fellowship, to the bonds of fathers and step-fathers. She lit up the room, and several Queens students sat right up front to listen to her speak, hanging on to every word in admiration.

Poet Ada Limón gestures as she reads her work onstage.

Professor Julie Funderburk of the English Department, the faculty liaison for Arts at Queens, recognized the importance of the reading: “Faculty value bringing exciting writers to campus like Limón to give students more voices for their own work… There’s also value in connecting the educational mission of Arts at Queens with the community, to share learning opportunities with Charlotteans and also to expose Queens students to the energy of those focused on lifelong learning.”

Ada Limón has an established relationship with Queens: she teaches in the MFA program. She is the author of five books of poetry, including The Carrying (2018), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry. The poetry weekend with Ada Limón was also a success for community outreach at Queens. The English Department Reading Series and the Arts at Queens worked in concert with Charlotte Lit to produce this inspiring programming. Also, as part of Charlotte Lit’s 4x4CLT poster release series, at the reading artist Laurie Smithwick presented four works of art related to Limón’s poetry.

The reading was the first half of a poetry weekend (Sept 10-11). Limón followed up the reading with a master class, “The Art of Conjuring: Making Something Out of Nothing” in Charlotte Lit’s auditorium. Besides several community members, select Queens students secured spots in the workshop: Lara Boyle, April Markowski, Cooper Knight, Sophia Russano, Anna Julia Vissioli Rodrigues, Ellie Fritsch, Connor Lindsay, Tyler Barnette, and Chase Mauerhan.

In the workshop, these Queens students introduced themselves and gave some background on their poetry, as well as asked questions and advice. In the workshop, the writers engaged with themselves in their pieces, drawing on their experiences and settings to produce poems in the moment. Several people read excerpts of what they wrote and were greeted with smiles of pride around the room.

Limón stood at the front, directing feedback and assuring everyone that no matter where they were in the poem, it was never finished until you were content with what you had written. She said that she revised poems several times over the course of months before she felt connected to it as a finished product.

One workshop participant, Junior Sophia Russano, reflected on her experience: “It was a great way to bridge the gap between the classroom and the real world and really apply what we learned. My favorite piece of advice that Limón gave was that the first few drafts/ideas are supposed to be messy. I also liked that she called the ideas we started writing on in response to the prompts ‘seeds.’”

By Izzy Harvey

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