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‘The Hurting Kind’ Review: The Power of Living an Observant Life

4.5 Stars

The cover of "The Hurting Kind" by Ada Limón.
The cover of "The Hurting Kind" by Ada Limón. By Courtesy of Milkweed Editions
By Lena M. Tinker, Crimson Staff Writer

Ada Limón, recently named the 24th Poet Laureate of the United States, loves stories. And she knows where to find them. They are brought out from a thoughtful consideration of the world around her: in the slipperiness of a groundhog stealing tomatoes from her garden, in a hawk wing nailed to the wall. They are also found in her own past, her emotions, and the people whom she has loved. Her dazzling new poetry collection, “The Hurting Kind,” will force a reader to sit in quiet contemplation after each poem, marveling at the beauty and power with which Limón wields her extraordinary gift of paying attention.

Within the pages of Limón’s collection is a demand for readers to think more deeply about the world around them. In her poem entitled “The First Lesson,” Limón remembers watching as her mother studied a hawk wing found on the side of the road: “I watched / and learned to watch / closely the world.” This habit of observation undergirds Limón’s collection. She devotes many poems to nature and its creatures: the fig buttercup, the forsythia, the foals, the fox. Other poems are dedicated to family, past and present partners, and friends.

The 57 poems in this collection are divided int0 four sections, each named after a season. Beginning with Spring, and ending with Winter, the poems are shaped from Limón’s observations combined with her own contemplation and reflection about what she has witnessed. This is beautifully shown in her poem “Invasive,” where her visible surroundings are described and linked to something deeper: “I am trying to kill the fig buttercup / the way I’m supposed to according / to the government website, / but right now there’s a bee on it. / Yellow on yellow, two things / radiating life. I need them both / to go on living.” This mix of observation, reflection, and description of her own experience delightfully combine in many of the poems of this collection. Mundane life experiences are given a thoughtful second look as Limón reconstructs them with stunning imagery and attention to detail.

This collection contains works written in both poetry and prose. The presentation of Limón’s work is always playful, sometimes written in columns never exceeding a three-word width, sometimes stretching over multiple pages with spaces between short stanzas. The varied layouts elevate the feeling that the works in “The Hurting Kind” are like journal entries, a personal record of thoughts about the world and the speaker’s place in it. There are no rules for what is written about, nor how it is presented.

Within this collection, one finds Limón’s wonderings, anxieties, and memories, which are transferred into surprising corollaries to the real world. Ordinary observations become windows into the author’s mind. In her poem “Glimpse,” Limón writes about the cat that used to belong to her husband’s ex-girlfriend who passed away: “She / is an ancient cat, and prickly. / When we are alone, I sing / full throated in the empty house / and she meows and mewls / like we’ve done this before / but we haven’t done this before.” A reader almost gets goosebumps from the way Limón can craft her stories, always knowing exactly where to end her words to leave the reader sitting in awe.

This collection is achingly genuine, and covers such intimate topics in Limón’s life as her parents divorce, her grandfather’s death, and her changing view of love. But while her work touches upon many different subjects, the journal-like feeling of her poems allows her collection to have breadth without feeling disjointed. What strings everything together is that these poems are personal reflections. This collection is a roadmap of Limón’s mind that is thoroughly enjoyable to read; in her thoughts readers gain access to a view of the world that is introspective, uncannily observant, and genuine. In her poems a reader can find a companion. Limón dares us to pay more attention to all that we interact with: the natural world, our memories, and each other.

—Staff writer Lena M. Tinker can be reached at lena.tinker@thecrimson.com.

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