Ada Limón wants to represent Kentucky — and a lot more — as new US poet laureate

The new U.S. poet laureate wasn't born in Kentucky. But after more than a decade in the commonwealth, the Bluegrass State has become Ada Limón's home ― and the inspiration behind many of her poems.

Limón is from Sonoma, California, but moved to Lexington 11 years ago when her husband got a new job in the Kentucky city. It wasn't an easy transition, as she acknowledged in her 2014 poem "State Bird," which opens with a confession: "I did not want to live here."

But it was the Kentucky's flora and fauna, like the Sweetgum tree, that sparked her love for her new home.

"One of the first things I did was just starting to start to identify the trees and start to identify all the birds," Limón told The Courier Journal. "It became this way to anchor myself here and really fall in love with the landscape. ... I think about my first trips out to the Kentucky River, or just hiking in Raven Run ... or the Red River Gorge, and really finding that natural beauty here. And I think, honestly, people don't understand how beautiful Kentucky is."

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Limón was chosen as the nation's 24th poet laureate in July, with Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden calling her a "poet who connects" with works that "speak of intimate truths, of the beauty and heartbreak that is living, in ways that help us move forward.”

Her one-year term begins Thursday, with responsibilities that include a presentation at the beginning and end of her time in the position along with the "freedom to shape the position based on their interests and inclinations," according to the Library of Congress. Along with her planned presentations, Limón will work on a community-oriented project with an aim to combine her love of poetry and nature and create "spaces for poems to live" in public parks.

But while this week will mark her first day on the job, her career in poetry has been more than 20 years in the making.

Limón grew up with a love for the artform. But before she took part in graduate studies in poetry at New York University, she didn't think she could make a living in the field. She worked for years at different magazines in New York and wrote poetry books on the side, with six releases in her 23-year career — her latest, "The Hurting Kind," hit the market earlier this year.

Limón is "slowly" writing her next book, she said. But it's a rewarding process.

"The most joy I can get as a poet is actually making the poem," Limón said. "I love reading poems to people and I love talking about poetry, but really, just that moment of creation when you make something, there is nothing like that elation of that moment."

You can feel her Kentucky roots in much of her writing, including "State Bird," which she described as a love letter to her husband about not wanting to move before embracing her new home. It's one of her personal favorites, she said. "Notes on the Below," meanwhile, was written about Mammoth Cave National Park and the "endless plummet into more of the unknown."

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She admires other Kentucky writers as well, she said, like iconic author Wendell Berry and Crystal Wilkinson, the state's current poet laureate. But Limón, who is one of only a handful of women to rise to U.S. poet laureate and is the first Latina to take the post, isn't only representing her Kentucky in her new role — she wants to represent her Mexican heritage, along with both coasts and everywhere in between.

"Oftentimes, people think about art happening on the west coast or the east coast. And I think there's so much exciting art being made in Kentucky, in different parts of the country, in the South, in the Midwest," she said. "And I think that's important to really recognize, and remember that art isn't just bicoastal ... but that it's made right here, and it's made in the Bluegrass. And I'm really proud of that and would I like to honor that."

Honoring her heritage and representing the country are responsibilities she takes seriously, Limón said. A successful year as the country's poet laureate, she added, could stir the next generation of children from the Latin American community to pick up the pen.

"I hope that what it will do is inspire young people ... that art is for them, that poetry is for them, and ... that watching someone like me take the national stage might help them write a poem, might help them read a poem and recognize that this is what America looks like – and we're not going anywhere," Limón said.

Reach reporter Ana Rocío Álvarez Bríñez at abrinez@courier-journal.com and follow her on Twitter at @SoyAnaAlvarez.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Ada Limón, new US poet laureate, loves Kentucky and the art of poetry