Last Monday, the Inprint Margarett Root Brown Reading Series welcomed poets Ada Limón and Gregory Pardlo. The poets, former classmates at NYU, have both recently been recognized: Limón’s Bright Dead Things was a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award. Pardlo won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for his collection Digest, and as of Thursday, a Guggenheim Fellowship. Poet Kevin Prufer, who also serves as a professor at the University of Houston’s Creative Writing Program, moderated a discussion with both after the reading.
Limón opened with “How to Triumph Like a Girl,” in which she imagines the power of a race- winning filly’s 8-pound heart: “Don’t you want to tug my shirt and see / the huge beating genius machine / that thinks, no, it knows, / it’s going to come in first.” When Prufer asked after Limón’s performance of the piece, she referred to Frederico García Lorca’s duende, and the heightened expression embodiment can bring to the work. Many of Limón’s poems showcased the same, with lines like, “You wake some days / full of crow and shine,” and “[…] then there’s the silence that comes back, a million times bigger than me, sneaks into my bones and wails and wails and wails […]”
Pardlo’s reading covered a wide range of subjects, with gorgeous, startling images – “The bat above me like a flung wrist watch,” and “She makes jewelry of herself and garlands the ground with shadows.” Prufer observed the personal woven into a number of the poems, and Pardlo referred to method acting (the idea that an actor should, to an extent, emotionally become his or her character). Pardlo discussed the adaptation of perspectives offered from real-life subjects that, once skewed to the purposes of a poem, can both open imaginative possibility, and release the writer from obligations to the literal.
Prufer’s questions were thoughtful and thorough, and gave both poets opportunities to showcase their experiences as writers and readers. One highlight was the question of what poetry, or any art, owes to politics and activism. Pardlo suggested artists should work to frame major concepts of the day and articulate unspoken anxieties, to “get behind blind spots we create culturally, that also obscure real concerns.” Limón pointed to the complex emotional capacity poetry can offer in consideration of a question or questions, rather than answers, in ways other media cannot.
The discussion closed with recommendations from both writers – Limón named When My Brother Was An Aztec by Natalie Diaz, as well as the non-fiction work Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Pardlo shared an ongoing interest in St. Augustine’s Confessions, all of which are available at the links provided. Video of the full reading and interview will be forthcoming here in Inprint’s archive.