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Richard Blanco on BPR, 12/3/2018

Can Poetry Help Us Create Meaning Out Of Despair?

Ada Limon
Poet Ada Limón.
Lucas Marquardt/adalimon.com
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Richard Blanco on BPR, 12/3/2018

How can people renew their sense of faith in the future when everything around them seems bleak?

For an answer to that question, poet Richard Blanco turned to the work of Ada Limón, a poet from Sonoma, California. Blanco is the nation's fifth inaugural poet and his latest project is the collection "Boundaries," a collaboration with the photographer Jacob Hessler.

"I think you'll see a similar theme in all these poems, which is how to find meaning in seeming oblivion," Blanco explained.

In "The Conditional," for example, the narrator considers a series of apocalyptic worst-case scenarios, like the sun becoming a "foul black tire fire," and yet the poem ends on a hopeful note.

"In some ways, [it's about] surrendering control ... but there's also this idea that life is full of tremendous tragedies and things we can't control, and yet we can control our sense of happiness in some ways too — our sense of fulfillment, our gratitude, and serenity," Blanco said.

Blanco, whose dog passed away recently, was especially drawn to Limón's poem "The Leash," in which a narrator ponders why her dog is so willing to love and trust humans despite all the destruction humanity has wrought on the planet.

"This is so layered, but one of the things with our pets ... [is] we're always in charge of their lives, of how to save them, and can we even save ourselves?" Blanco said.

"It's amazing because she's bringing in here a lot of stuff that's going on in the country, this sort of mayhem we're in, and yet [there's] this quiet moment of just being with your dog protecting what you can or what you feel you can, and having that quiet moment as a moment of respite and, I guess, some sense or temporary sense of control," he continued.

Follow along with the poems by Ada Limón discussed, in order:

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