Ada Limón on Why Being Witnessed Is Essential For an Artist

First Draft: A Dialogue of Writing is a weekly show featuring in-depth interviews with fiction, nonfiction, essay writers, and poets, highlighting the voices of writers as they discuss their work, their craft, and the literary arts. Hosted by Mitzi Rapkin, First Draft celebrates creative writing and the individuals who are dedicated to bringing their carefully chosen words to print as well as the impact writers have on the world we live in.

In this episode, Mitzi talks to Ada Limón about her latest poetry collection, The Hurting Kind.

From the episode:

Mitzi Rapkin: There’s a great sense of longing in your poems. I got the sense that this idea of really being seen by the world is very important in your poems. I actually think it’s a primal need. If I was going to edit Maslow’s Hierarchy, I would probably put being seen somewhere along the bottom with food and shelter. You have a poem called “Banishing Wonders,” and you say in there:

“What is it to be seen in the right way? As who you are? A flash of color
a blur in the crowd,
something spectacular, but untouchable.”

I wanted to talk about that, but this wasn’t the only poem that that idea of being seen came up.

Ada Limón: I love that you brought that up, because I think it’s really essential to this book. I am very interested in the idea of not just witnessing but being witnessed and being seen. And I think so often as an artist, we think our job is to look, but I think as a human what we also need is to be not just seen, but to be beheld. And I think that when that happens, and when someone can do that for you, or when you see an animal looking at you and it just feels like, Oh, I am being witnessed as part of community; I watch the crows and the crows watch me and they know my routine and I know theirs and here we are together.

It is this kind of connection, an interconnection and also that sense of working against aloneness, you know, that idea that we aren’t separate. All of those things are at play in this book, but really being seen and being witnessed, and not always being the person to look and report and record, but sometimes to be able to be received yourself, I think is really important as a human being, as a human experience.


Ada Limón is the author of six books of poetry, including The Carrying, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry. Limón is also the host of the critically-acclaimed poetry podcast, The Slowdown. Her new book of poems is called The Hurting Kind.

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