vocalisms #37: Ada Limón


vocalisms is a regular feature that presents selected tracks from Voca, the Poetry Center's online audiovisual archive of more than 800 recorded readings, spanning from 1963 to today. 

Ada Limón wears an embroidered shirt while standing in front of a concrete wall

Tours of the Poetry Center for new visitors often include an introduction to voca, one track selected to pique the visitors’ interest and speak to the important place reserved at the Poetry Center for performances by poets. For those of us who give those tours, we each have our own favorite tracks to play; most recently, mine has been “What I Didn’t Know Before” by Ada Limón, for both the poem itself and the performance of it. The poem starts off with a description of the strangeness of the birth of horses and then turns—beautifully, astonishingly—towards romantic partnership, a relationship that generates life of many kinds. Limón’s reading conveys the humor and the tenderness of her poem exquisitely. Towards the end of a tour of the Poetry Center, I point visitors towards the library’s back wall, a series of tall glass windows each set at a slightly different angle, giving the effect of a slow, curling wave. We call this “the turning wall,” a visual echo of the way poems can turn from one idea to another. Standing beside that glass wall, I ask: Remember the poem we just heard and the way it turned in the middle? Something shifts, and suddenly, the world opens up, full of new possibilities.