by Claire Jussel
May 10, 2022
Two Blues of the Same Ocean: Life and Death in Ada Limón’s The Hurting Kind
The Hurting Kind by Ada Limón; Milkweed Editions; 120 pages; $22
Ada Limón’s latest poetry collection contains, in short, so much hurt yet so much comfort. Vulnerable and strikingly written, The Hurting Kind explores suffering as it exists alongside love and beauty in a rich, complicated, and often troubled world. Dualities abound throughout the collection. Life and death, pain and delight, and connection and longing twine together through these poems that speak to memory, family, friendships, and connection to the natural world.
The collection also abounds in stunning imagery, and Limón’s knack for conjuring arresting lines is at its best when she situates images with unexpected company: animals found dead or killed are buried into the roots of flourishing plants; a jar of scorpions is transformed into a prize of childhood wonder; a tree is found half-scorched and half-alive; what in childhood seemed like two different oceans in temperament are in fact one. Every time such contrasting elements are brought together, they echo the ways in which suffering and life are held together in the palm of the same hand.
Limón’s whole work is a testament to the conjoined nature of these dualities. In doing so, she strikes a balance that could be difficult to achieve: allowing each of those emotional spaces room to be stated without smothering the other. She recounts suffering as earnestly as delight without overdramatization and offers examples of love and beauty without sugarcoating. But Limón does not merely write about themes of suffering—she offers an approach to endure and indeed live through a hurting world. In fact, she offers two: one at the open and one at close of the collection. In the first poem of the book, “Give Me This,” the speaker surveys a groundhog thieving tomatoes from their garden and contemplates the “…stranger [who] writes to request my thoughts/ on suffering. Barbed wire pulled out of the mouth.” But the speaker’s attention veers not towards suffering, but her surroundings:
I watch the groundhog more closely and a sound escapes
me, a small spasm of joy I did not imagine
when I woke. She is a funny creature and earnest,
and she is doing what she can to survive.
In this poem, the speaker offers one response to suffering: observation and connection with the surrounding world; to note both where it is difficult and where it is joyful. The poem sets us up for what is to follow in the body of the poems, which do address thoughts on suffering, but never in isolation. This approach towards suffering is heavily felt throughout the book, as poem after poem realizes and beholds facets of the speaker’s world and lived experience.
The closing poem, and indeed the final line of the book, offer a different outlook. The fittingly titled “The End of Poetry” says “enough” to a litany of phrases and poetic strategies: “Enough of osseous and chickadee and sunflower […] and enough of the pointing to the world, weary / and desperate, […] enough of the animal saving me…” and so on. After reading a book full of poems, this final sentiment could come as a shock, until the final line arrives, "I am asking you to touch me." In this bare, tender line, it becomes clear that this poem is not condemnation of poetry as a whole. This request reminds us that the way through suffering is not through observation or crafting words or making art alone. Sometimes, the way to endure is through companionship and physical connection. This line rings out as particularly poignant in the shadow of recent years that have often made physical touch between loved ones impossible. The groundwork for this sentiment can be found throughout the collection. After all, the characters populating the poems are impressions of people, connections, and love that exists beyond the context of the book. If the strategy to process suffering presented in “Give Me This” can be seen as playing out across the text of The Hurting Kind, then this final line is a command and invitation extending beyond the closing of these pages, a reminder that human connection and attachment to our beloveds is what brings us through the complicated act of living in a world full of beauty and hurt.
Claire Jussel is a poet, writer, and artist from Boise, Idaho. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in West Trade Review, Black Fox Literary Magazine, CP Quarterly, and The Lit Mug. She serves as an associate poetry editor at West Trade Review and currently resides in Minnesota where she can be found selling books and holding cats at Wild Rumpus Books in Minneapolis.