Posts Tagged ‘Rainer Maria Rilke’

Discover Ada Limón, the 24th U.S. Poet Laureate

October 25, 2022

I recently discovered Ada Limón. I found her refreshing and her poetry accessible. She is the author of six poetry collections and is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, and the Kentucky Foundation for Women. This past summer she was selected as the 24th U.S. Poet Laureate for 2022-2023.

Here are 3 related sequential videos: a Library of Congress interview, followed by a PBS interview and announcement, and Ada Limón giving her inaugural reading as the 24th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry at the Library of Congress. I added a bonus video at the bottom, from 2019—Life of a Poet: Ada Limón.

1. July 12, 2022: Ada Limón: 24th Poet Laureate (19 min)

Ada Limón talks about her poetry and her appointment as U.S. Poet Laureate with Library of Congress Chief Communications Officer Roswell Encina, in the Library’s Poetry Room.

When asked how she writes, Ada explains that composing a poem is an all-body experience for her. She involves all her senses, not just her mind. She is asked what inspires her, and replies: “I find inspiration in so many different things. I always say the muse is, or my muse is the world. It’s everything.”

At 6:45, she expresses the essence of what it means to be a poet.

But I think I’m always amazed by how deep attention can turn into a poem, that deep looking is a way of loving. And it can transform the smallest thing into something of great importance. And no matter how many years I’ve been writing poems and no matter what I’ve done, that is the thing that brings me the most joy, that gives me shivers, the way that looking and attention and really giving your all to something can transform it.

I’m always amazed by how deep attention can turn into a poem, that deep looking is a way of loving…can transform the smallest thing into something of great importance…the thing that brings me the most joy, that gives me shivers, the way that looking and attention and really giving your all to something can transform it. (edited)

Ada Limón, 24th U.S. Poet Laureate

The other side of the equation, of course, is how the poet is also transformed by this process. It is obvious that Ada Limón was meant to be a poet, and now a poet laureate.

But what she said reminds me very much of what Rainer Maria Rilke wrote about this experience. I discovered it in Jane Hirshfield’s book, Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry, in the chapter on Poetry and the Mind of Indirection, pages 119-120. Rilke gets to the essence of what that deep attention, deep looking (and loving), can bring a devoted poet. Hirshfield writes:

Both readings of Novalis’s aphorism—that an awareness in the things we wish to observe and know, and that the way we come to them matters—enter into a letter from Rilke, sent in the winter of 1920 to Baladine Klossowska, a lover and fellow writer with whom he shared a passionate correspondence.

This next paragraph, translated by Stephen Mitchell, reveals that essential art of deep seeing, and its surprising hidden reward of spiritual transformation.

These Things whose essential life you want to express first ask you. “Are you free? Are you prepared to devote all your love to me . . . ?” And if the Thing sees that you are otherwise occupied with even a particle of your interest, it shuts itself off; it may perhaps give you some slight sign of friendship, or word or a nod, but it will never give you its heart, entrust you with its patient being, its sweet sidereal constancy, which makes it so like the constellations in the sky. In order for a Thing to speak to you, you must regard it for a certain time as the only one that exists, as the one and only phenomenon which, through your laborious and exclusive love, is now placed at the center of the universe, and which, in that incomparable place, is on that day attended by angels.

These Things whose essential life you want to express first ask you. “Are you free? Are you prepared to devote all your love to me . . . ?” … In order for a Thing to speak to you, you must regard it for a certain time as the only one that exists, as the one and only phenomenon which, through your laborious and exclusive love, is now placed at the center of the universe, and which, in that incomparable place, is on that day attended by angels. (edited)

Rainer Maria Rilke in a letter to Baladine Klossowska

Mary Oliver also reiterated this truth: “Attention is the beginning of devotion.” It was her essential message for living a full life. She emphasized: “To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.” She formularized it in this succinct 3-line poem, Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. / Be astonished. / Tell about it.

Even well-known Canadian actor Keanu Reeves said something similar: “The simple act of paying attention can take you a long way.

For John Keats, this experience of reverse deep seeing was to inhabit a state of being perceived outside himself. It involved negating his Self to become The Other, what he described as ‘negative capability’.

2. Jul 27, 2022: PBS NewsHour: Ada Limón on becoming the new U.S. poet laureate (6 min)

Ada Limón has been named the nation’s new poet laureate. Jeffrey Brown recently met with Limón to learn more about her life’s path, one that includes backyard groundhogs, Kentucky bluegrass, pokeweed and plenty of poetry. It’s part of our arts and culture series, “CANVAS.”

3. Sept 29, 2022: Live! at the Library: U.S. Poet Laureate Ada Limón Opening Reading (56 min)

Award-winning poet Ada Limón will give her inaugural reading as the 24th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry at the Library of Congress, with an introduction by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. The historic reading marks the beginning of Limón’s laureateship, and it traditionally launches the Library’s literary season.

4. January 30, 2019: Hill Center poetry series, The Library of Congress. (63 min)

Poet Ada Limón discussed her work with Ron Charles, book critic at the Washington Post. It was a rich interactive and intimate conversation, introducing and then commenting on her reading certain meaningful poems from her life. Enjoy Life of a Poet: Ada Limón.

PS: These posts share similar experiences described by Limón and Rilke: Being written—how some poems come through us and Karen Matheson sings ‘Crucán na bPáiste’ with a Gaelic band. Brendan Graham tells how the song chose him as a conduit. Truly beautiful and sad. Also see negative capability, reverse seeing, beauty & the desire for transcendence & unity in life & poetry.

In this post, New York poet laureate Marie Howe reads “Annunciation” to Krista Tippett On Being, she describes how the poem came through her. In another interview included there, she is asked if she thinks of writing as a spiritual act at its core, and answers:

“I do, because it involves a wonderful contradiction, which is, in order for it to happen, you have to be there, and you have to disappear. Both. You know, nothing feels as good as that. Being there and disappearing—being possessed by something else. Something happening through you, but you’re attending it. There are few other things in the world like that, but writing is pretty much a relief from the self—and yet the self has to be utterly there.”

New: What the Living Do—Marie Howe’s ‘letter’ to her brother—an elegy to loss and how she lives with it.

Rainer Maria Rilke and Carl Jung on learning how to live with life’s unanswerable questions

February 22, 2021

Sometimes, certain questions about life grip us, but we have no answers for them. In time, with more of life’s experiences, understanding may grow, and some questions will eventually get answered, resolved.

On the other hand, some of those questions may no longer seem relevant, and will be replaced by other more practical pressing problems.

In Letters to a Young Poet, I remember the now famous wise advice Rainer Maria Rilke gave a young man who wrote to him looking for answers to life’s unanswerable questions.

I recently came across a similar notion in a quote by Carl Gustav Jung. What they both said makes sense, each from their own perspective.

Read what Rilke and Jung had to say about this idea and let us know if you agree or disagree. Leave your comments below.


“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

― Rainer Maria Rilke (December 4, 1875 – December 29, 1926)

Read more quotes from Rainer Maria Rilke. Read these profound poems by Rilke posted on this blog.


“The greatest and most important problems of life are all in a certain sense insoluble…. They can never be solved, but only outgrown…. This ‘outgrowing’, as I formerly called it, on further experience was seen to consist in a new level of consciousness. Some higher or wider interest arose on the person’s horizon, and through this widening of view, the insoluble problem lost its urgency. It was not solved logically in its own terms, but faded out when confronted with a new and stronger life-tendency.”

― Carl Jung (July 26, 1875 – June 6, 1961)

Read selected powerful quotes from C.G. Jung


(more…)

Sue Monk Kidd on empathy and the purpose and power of literature to enter the common heart

November 10, 2020

It’s sometimes serendipitous how one thing can lead to another while surfing the internet. I came across this tweet by Alicia Keys about her recent conversation with Sue Monk Kidd. They were discussing each other’s books. Alicia had just published, More Myself, and Sue, The Book of Longings. A previous book, The Secret Life of Bees, was made into a movie (2008). Alicia posted the podcast on her YouTube channel AliciaKeys.lnk.to/AKSMK.

Sue Monk Kidd is a novelist, essayist, and best-selling author. She has received wide acclaim for her books on feminine spirituality and theology. Her inspiring lectures explore the intersection of writing, creativity, and soul. I wanted to know more about this author and found an intriguing title to a talk she gave in Saint Paul at a Westminster Town Hall Forum. The live talk, Sue Monk Kidd: Life is a Story, was sponsored by SPNN on February 11, 2014.

Sue Monk Kidd (SMK) gave a profound talk about how she became a writer later in life, what the act of writing means to her, and how it can be used to shine a light on injustices, particularly with issues of women and race, giving readers a window into the lives of her female characters. Her spirituality is connected to justice and compassion. For her, one of the important purposes of literature is to enhance empathy, allowing readers to enter what Emerson called “the common heart.”

She mentions her favorite authors and books, and had stenciled some of their quotes on her walls, which informed her life and work as a writer. I transcribed some of her many inspiring comments from the talk. The hyperlinked phrases will take you to those segments in the video.

creativity and the writing life

Introducing the idea of creativity and the role of writing in her life, SMK says, “Well, creativity, I think, is essentially a spiritual experience, at least it is for me. I think it is a conversation that one has between one’s self and one’s soul. It’s not always a good conversation, but it is some kind of conversation.”

She then references the poet Rilke from Letters to a Young Poet, where he tells a young man who’s written him for advice: “So, dear Sir, I can’t give you any advice but this: to go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows; at its source you will find the answer to, the question of whether you must create. Accept that answer, just as it is given to you, without trying to interpret it.”

moments of being…a silence beneath my words

She reiterates this notion. “I think there’s a realm inside us. We could call it the inner life, or the interior life, or the life of the soul or something else. Merton often referred to it as the true self. And I think my 30-year old self was trying to start up a conversation with this place. What I suppose I have in mind here is a kind of contemplative experience. It’s very easy to lose touch with this part of ourselves, especially in our contemporary culture. I think we often feel, at least I do, besieged by life.

I think the world seduces us with an artificial sense of urgency sometimes. But the soul doesn’t move at the same pace as the world. The creative life doesn’t, at least mine doesn’t. I think it has a completely different slower pace about it.

So contemplative moments, I think, moments of being, help us, help me cultivate this life I’m talking about. I often say to myself that there must be a silence beneath my words. If there is not a deep silence beneath my words, then my words are probably empty.

the real power of literature

When asked what does she hope readers would take away from her work, she references what the female protagonists go through in her books. “My hope I suppose, if I had to articulate that, would be that readers would have a felt experience of what it’s like to be an enslaved person in the 19th century; or a white woman without any rights, with shockingly few rights; or what it’s like to be a 14-year old girl looking for home and belonging; or a woman adrift in the middle of her marriage; or a 50-year old woman trying to find the 3rd act. What does it feel like?”

“And I’m talking of course about empathy, which is taking an other’s experience and making it one’s own. I think that is perhaps the most mysterious transaction in the human soul. And I think it’s the real power of literature.”

empathy…the common heart…an intrinsic unity with all of humanity

While in college SMK studied Ralph Waldo Emerson, which is where she learned about his concept of “the common heart.”

He described it as a place inside every human where we share an intrinsic unity with all of humanity. Now this idea has remained with me all of these years. I have never forgotten it. And as a novelist I have to believe in this place. And as a person I believe in this place.”

“So I began by saying that, for me, creativity is a conversation with one’s soul. And I think in that sense maybe writing has been my longest prayer. But I also think, that in this sense that readers go to the common heart, that they can find their way into the common heart, a portal through a book, that reading becomes their prayer too.”

distractions…contemplative rhythm…conscious loitering…listening

The most difficult part of writing for her is the solitude—the paradoxical need for it and the isolation that it brings. She describes her process. “I find that, I have to find, particularly when I’m writing, ‘a contemplative rhythm’. I like to refer to it as ‘conscious loitering’. Because loitering is really a good thing in a lot of ways. It’s just to, to be, without any purpose other than being within oneself. And this centers me; it grounds me. It allows me most of all, the time and place to have this conversation that I need to have with this deeper part of myself, or to go to that deeper part of myself and to listen.”

She tries to avoid social media. “I think listening is so important. I don’t know how to do that with all of this, you know, Twitter and Facebook, and all of this that is going on. It’s kind of a whirlwind, and I think our attention span is shrinking dramatically with it. And I’m about the long form. So it’s attention, actually, I think for many writers, and it is for me. And I kinda go back and forth in these worlds and try to navigate both of them and sometimes do both of them poorly.”

In a previous post, famous songwriters have said a similar thing about the need to be alone undisturbed where the mind can idle (loiter). Ideas come along, get fiddled with, and inspire lyrics turning them into songs.

fundamental to writing is the courage to find and believe in your self

When asked what advice she would give to a young writer just getting started, she shared what she had written her daughter in a card the night before they would drive her to college. “Be true to yourself. Have the courage to be true to yourself, and stand by yourself. It was as simple as that. And maybe that is really the key.”

“You know writing, as I said, is an act of courage. It’s about having something to say and the ability to say it. But the real thing is about the courage to say it at all. And it has to do with some sense of truth in one’s self, and finding that truth, and being willing to have an authentic conversation with it.”

“So I think I would say that, believe in yourself, but first of all find the self you want to stand by, and then believe in that self, because that’s fundamental to writing.”

related blog posts on writing

Writers on Writing–What Writing Means To Writers | Elizabeth Gilbert—Some Thoughts On Writing | Words of Wisdom on Writing from Literary Lights | Burghild Nina Holzer inspires us to write and discover who we are and what we have to say | John O’Donohue’s 4 short lines say it all for poets | The perils of praise or blame for young writers. New ways to help students find their own voice | Letters to a Young Poet Quotes by Rainer Maria Rilke | Rainer Maria Rilke and Carl Jung on learning how to live with life’s unanswerable questions


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