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A poet’s take on looking to language for ‘radical hope’

In this digital and divided society, it can often seem that language is used primarily to deliver criticism and express rage. But poet Ada Limón shares her humble opinion on why she sees people turning to poetry for language that reflects nuance, mystery and even “radical hope.”

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Oxford Dictionaries has named toxic as the word of the year.

    There was a 45 percent jump in the number of times people looked it up online. And it was chosen to — quote — "reflect the ethos, the mood, or preoccupations of the passing year."

    Despite that backdrop, poet Ada Limon believes there is a more effective way to communicate, and she shares her Humble Opinion on the radical hope in poetry.

  • Ada Limon:

    These days, it seems like all we do is read and write, or should I say scroll and post.

    And while some people have rigorously stuck to the model of sharing only perfectly framed photos of peach Bellinis or pictures of homemade pozole, for the most part, it seems that the one thing we consistently share is our outrage.

    Now, I'm not saying rage can't be useful, healthy, even necessary, but it is not lost on me that, at the same time we're inundated with diatribes and rants on our news feeds, on our televisions, people have been turning, more and more, to poetry.

    At a time when language is often used only as a blunt tool, poetry reminds us that language can also be used for nuance, mystery, and even radical hope.

    Poetry is a place where both grief and grace can live, where rage can be explored and examined, not simply exploited, like the lines from one of Terrance Hayes' poems called "American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin."

    "Something happens everywhere in this country every day. Someone is praying. Someone is prey."

    Or how Jose Olivarez explores the danger of his own anger in the lines of his poem, "Poem in Which I Become Wolverine."

    "I know my rage is poison. I know it kills me first. And, still, I love it and feed it."

    Poetry isn't a place of answers and easy solutions. It's a place where we can admit to an unknowing, own our private despair, and still, sometimes, practice beauty.

    In my own work, I'm always trying to lean toward the real questions, as in my poem "Dead Stars."

    "Look, we are not unspectacular things. We have come this far, survived this much. What would happen if we decided to survive more?"

    I believe people are reading more poetry because we distrust the diatribe, the easy answer, the argument that holds only one note. Poetry makes its music from specificity and empathy. It speaks to the whole complex notion of what it means to be human.

    And that is exactly what we need more of these days: a chance to be seen fully in both our rage and our humanity.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Thank you, Ada Limon.

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