U.S. Poet Laureate Ada Limón with Santa Barbara Poet Laureates (L-R) Chryss Yost, Emma Trelles, Sojourner Kincaid Rolle, Melinda Palacio, Limón, Enid Osborn, Paul Willis, and Perie Longo. | Photo: Mark Zolezzi

Kicking off an evening dedicated to the love of words, Marley Bernsen and Rodda Leage Leonardi — the winners of the Independent and UCSB Arts & Lectures National Poetry Month poetry contest — both gave powerful readings of their winning poems to an appreciative audience at UCSB’s Campbell Hall. It was a terrific introduction to the evening’s main event, U.S. Poet Laureate Ada Limón’s presentation on “Why We Need Poetry.” 

“Everywhere we go, people are showing up for poetry,” said Limón, sharing a bit about her travels as the country’s poetry ambassador. “Poetry allows us not to be numb.” Prior to launching into sharing her work from several books and different periods of her life, she reminded us, “I’m going to read some poems and warn you that you might have some feelings.”

Indeed her poems, such as her heavily horse-powered “How to Triumph Like a Girl” and “Someplace Like Montana,” a relatable ode to a special friendship with a “titleologist” — both from Bright Dead Things (2015) — are so personal and so specific that you really do feel like you get to know a bit of the writer’s soul from hearing her read her work. 

The revelatory, personal nature of Limón’s writing, no matter what subject she takes on, is part of her charm and also a personal challenge she admits to. “The freest I feel is when I’m writing,” she said.

At one point after sharing “The Great Blue Heron of Dunbar Road,” which she wrote for her stepfather, she remarked that after writing that one, “I had a moment when I thought, ‘Oh no, I just wrote a book of poems and told all my secrets,’ and then, ‘Okay, it’s poetry, no one will read it.’”

How wrong she was. She’s been invited to serve an unprecedented second two-year term as the U.S. Poet Laureate and not only are people going to be hearing her poetry all over the country, she also shared that she’s been invited by NASA to write a poem that’s going to be engraved on a spacecraft. “I asked them for a space outfit,” she quipped. 


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