Every Atom | No. 80

Ada Limón

Introduction to Every Atom by project curator Brian Clements

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This passage always comes back to me because I think of what we risk if we do not allow ourselves to articulate joy. There is so much death in “Song of Myself,” but there is also so much life. Life with an exclamation point! Life! And this passage seems to be that aching acknowledgment of what a necessity it is to give voice to our praise, our undeniable elation at the pure bliss of being. If we could not speak it, could not sound the barbaric yawp at the day’s undeniable beauty, that silence, that cutting out of the tongue, could kill us. It seems he is speaking directly to writers, to poets, to artists, and saying that we might be summarily ended if we weren’t allowed to shout back to grandness and abyss of the world. He is saying he must meet light with light, stand at the dawn’s breaking and break open himself. He must be a mirror for the world and that mirror isn’t always grotesque and brutal. Instead, it is something remarkably continuous, even without us, at least for some time, the sun will keep rising. The lines feel, somehow, like instructions, a directive to keep sending the sunrises out of ourselves, to keep rising for as long as we can and shining back with whatever little light we can muster.

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Ada Limón is the author of five books of poetry. Her most recent book The Carrying won the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her fourth book, Bright Dead Things, was named a finalist for the National Book Award, the Kingsley Tufts Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award.


Cover art by J. D. Schraffenberger