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Analysis of the Wild Divine

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Ada Limón grew up in Glen Ellen and Sonoma, California. A graduate of New York University’s MFA Creative Writing Program , she has received fellowships from the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, the New York Foundation for the Arts, and won the Chicago Literary Award for Poetry

She is the author of three books of poetry, Lucky Wreck (Autumn House Press, 2006), This Big Fake World (Pearl Editions, 2007), and Sharks in the Rivers (Milkweed Editions, 2010). She is currently at work on a novel and a book of essays.

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A book of bravado and introspection, of feminist swagger and harrowing loss, this fourth collection considers how we build our identities out of place and human contact—tracing in intimate detail the ways the speaker’s sense of self both shifts and perseveres as she moves from New York City to rural Kentucky, loses a dear parent, ages past the capriciousness of youth, and falls in love. Ada Limón has often been a poet who wears her heart on her sleeve, but in these extraordinary poems that heart becomes a “huge beating genius machine” striving to embrace and understand the fullness of the present moment. “I am beautiful. I am full of love. I am dying,” the poet writes. Building on the legacies of forebears such as Frank O’Hara, Sharon Olds, and Mark Doty, Limón’s work is consistently generous, accessible, and “effortlessly lyrical” —though every observed moment feels complexly thought, felt, and lived. The needs and wants expressed by Limón in the four sections that make up her National Book Award nominated collection are anything but simple

She wants to retain her sense of self as she moves into the “we” of an abiding relationship. She wants life and death reworked into some spirit of “solve-able absence.” She wants the entirety of her physical past and its erasure. She wants to be her “own personal map of America,” love and wreck and all. Most importantly, Limón—a confessed autobiographical poet —wants readers to be intimately by her side, line after line. Reading this collection is like putting together each rung of a ladder that stretches toward the sky by sinking into its watery reflection.

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Finally, she writes down advice “like this was a meeting / about a client who wasn’t happy,” and soon realizes that the hardest job belonged to her mother, whose work “was to let the machine / of survival break down.” I think of a later poem, “Outside Oklahoma, We See Boston,” that ends “How / masterful and mad is hope.” Madness, wildness, transcendence

Bright Dead Things offers many answers, but is equally appealing for its questions: “Yesterday I was nice, but in truth I resented / the contentment of the field. Why must we practice / this surrender?” May our poems always be wild.

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