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The Carrying: Poems

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From National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award finalist Ada Limón comes The Carrying—her most powerful collection yet.

Vulnerable, tender, acute, these are serious poems, brave poems, exploring with honesty the ambiguous moment between the rapture of youth and the grace of acceptance. A daughter tends to aging parents. A woman struggles with infertility—“What if, instead of carrying / a child, I am supposed to carry grief?”—and a body seized by pain and vertigo as well as ecstasy. A nation convulses: “Every song of this country / has an unsung third stanza, something brutal.” And still Limón shows us, as ever, the persistence of hunger, love, and joy, the dizzying fullness of our too-short lives. “Fine then, / I’ll take it,” she writes. “I’ll take it all.”

In Bright Dead Things, Limón showed us a heart “giant with power, heavy with blood”—“the huge beating genius machine / that thinks, no, it knows, / it’s going to come in first.” In her follow-up collection, that heart is on full display—even as The Carrying continues further and deeper into the bloodstream, following the hard-won truth of what it means to live in an imperfect world.

120 pages, Hardcover

First published August 14, 2018

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About the author

Ada Limon

22 books1,505 followers
Ada Limón is the author of three books of poetry, Lucky Wreck, This Big Fake World, and Sharks in the Rivers. She received her Master of Fine Arts in Poetry from New York University. Limón has received fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, and was one of the judges for the 2013 National Book Award in Poetry. She works as a creative writing instructor and a freelance writer while splitting her time between Lexington, Kentucky and Sonoma, California (with a great deal of New York in between). Her new book of poems, Bright Dead Things is forthcoming from Milkweed Editions in 2015.

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5 stars
3,538 (55%)
4 stars
2,106 (32%)
3 stars
602 (9%)
2 stars
115 (1%)
1 star
26 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 959 reviews
Profile Image for Roxane.
Author 120 books160k followers
August 1, 2018
Exquisite poems about love, fertility, desire, this natural world we move through, the political climate, so much more.
Profile Image for Michael.
655 reviews964 followers
April 20, 2020
Limón writes intimate short poems structured by narrative and images of nature: the poetry in this collection focuses on fertility, passion, loss, creativity, and, occasionally, politics, all through the lens of the poet's daily life. Pain laces many of the poems, but Limón's outlook is fundamentally optimistic, her work measured and tranquil. The collection's straightforward language and interest in everyday life lends it broad appeal, making it accessible even to those who typically do not read poetry.
Profile Image for Alan.
470 reviews212 followers
April 3, 2023
This was a delightful surprise - I was on the train for a long ride, reading a novel. I had read a few poems from The Carrying before getting on and happened to have the book with me. Halfway through a random paragraph in the novel, I just felt the change come over me. Maybe it was the newly emerging April sun, boosting serotonin and inducing euphoria. Either way, I read the majority of this collection then and there.

I adored most of them. Fair to say that I don’t have any experience with the peaks and troughs that follow an unflinching desire to conceive, to produce a child, a desire that is constantly disappointed by natural failure due to whatever reason. But that’s just the thing - even without this experience, you feel the devastation. During the breaks from the main overarching theme, the poems are still luscious. I find myself suddenly without descriptors, apt adjectives. They’re good. They hit deep. I’ll be reading other collections by Limon very quickly after this one, that’s for sure.

I loved these poems in particular:
- Trying
- The Raincoat
- Notes On the Below
- On A Lamppost Long Agol
- The Contract Says: We’d Like The Conversation To Be Bilingual
- Mastering

Here is The Raincoat:

When the doctor suggested surgery
and a brace for all my youngest years,
my parents scrambled to take me
to massage therapy, deep tissue work,
osteopathy, and soon my crooked spine
unspooled a bit, I could breathe again,
and move more in a body unclouded
by pain. My mom would tell me to sing
songs to her the whole forty-five-minute
drive to Middle Two Rock Road and forty-
five minutes back from physical therapy.
She’d say that even my voice sounded unfettered
by my spine afterward. So I sang and sang,
because I thought she liked it. I never
asked her what she gave up to drive me,
or how her day was before this chore. Today,
at her age, I was driving myself home from yet
another spine appointment, singing along
to some maudlin but solid song on the radio,
and I saw a mom take her raincoat off
and give it to her young daughter when
a storm took over the afternoon. My god,
I thought, my whole life I’ve been under her
raincoat thinking it was somehow a marvel
that I never got wet.
Profile Image for Ken.
Author 3 books969 followers
September 8, 2023
This collection came on strong in the stretch drive, section 3, which is not to say the earlier parts were without their pleasant parts. There were joys to be found there, too, though it was a bit more uneven than the last section.

I've written up a full review and included four poems I especially liked from Part 3 down this rabbit hole.
Profile Image for Michael Livingston.
795 reviews252 followers
August 7, 2020
I've been trying to figure out how to read poetry this year, realising it was kind of silly to just ignore a vibrant and exciting segment of literature. I've read a bunch - enjoying some, being baffled by others and gradually feeling my way in. But this collection completely blew the lid off for me - Limon is masterful weaving together surprising and beautiful observations of the natural world with powerful human emotion. I don't have the language to explain how good this book is - just read it.
Profile Image for Edita.
1,402 reviews423 followers
November 5, 2020
Look we are not unspectacular things.
We've come this far, survived this much. What

would happen if we decided to survive more? To love harder?
You ever think you could cry so hard
that there’d be nothing left in you, like
how the wind shakes a tree in a storm
until every part of it is run through with
wind? I live in the low parts now, most
days a little hazy with fever and waiting
for the water to stop shivering out of the
body. Funny thing about grief, its hold
is so bright and determined like a flame,
like something almost worth living for.
Profile Image for may ➹.
494 reviews2,070 followers
February 13, 2022
“But friends, it’s lunchtime, and doesn’t my mouth still work; my appetite, my forked tongue?”

This poetry collection was so beautiful. It felt warm and comforting to read, despite some of its sadder moments with infertility and illness—I adored all of the connections to nature and found the depictions of love to be so achingly tender. For me, the first half was slightly stronger than the last, but I truly loved so many of these poems and I can’t wait to read more from Limón.
Profile Image for s..
60 reviews108 followers
January 23, 2022
ada limon's poems make me feel like i'm being peeled like a fruit
Profile Image for anna (½ of readsrainbow).
596 reviews1,842 followers
May 27, 2019
Look, we are not unspectacular things.
We’ve come this far, survived this much. What

would happen if we decided to survive more? To love harder?

What if we stood up with our synapses and flesh and said, No.
No, to the rising tides.

Stood for the many mute mouths of the sea, of the land?

What would happen if we used our bodies to bargain

for the safety of others, for earth,
if we declared a clean night, if we stopped being terrified,

if we launched our demands into the sky, made ourselves so big
people could point to us with the arrows they make in their minds,

rolling their trash bins out, after all of this is over?
Profile Image for Ellie.
1,493 reviews378 followers
May 12, 2019
Beautiful. A collection of poems about love and loss, a motherhood that doesn't come, a "carrying of grief" and yet also about the vibrancy of life, of things growing from the earth, of beauty.

I especially liked how each poem ended, like a skater landing perfectly.

As soon as I finished the book, I reread it.
Profile Image for Miri.
49 reviews24 followers
January 4, 2022
feeling held by ada limón's poetry once again
Profile Image for Caroline.
639 reviews26 followers
August 18, 2018
5 stars

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Ada Limón is my favorite living poet. I love her work because she is realistic without being too pessimistic, an attitude much needed in these trying times. There's always room for hope in her poems.

I was eagerly anticipating this new collection, and it did not disappoint. I read it in a single sitting, which hardly ever happens when it comes to my reading. This is a very cohesive collection, expertly laid out.

The Carrying doubles down on the theme of connecting to nature from her previous collection, Bright Dead Things, and explores some new territory as well, such as fertility and more overtly political poems. Several poems deal with the male gaze and male violence, and have echoes of #MeToo. There is also a pervasive aesthetic of winter--perhaps a nod to the difficulty of finding joy and beauty when all around us things seem to be getting worse, and the sense of being in survival mode. These are relevant and affirming poems.

I was reminded of Rebecca Solnit's book Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities, wherein Solnit argues for the necessity of hope, and points to past political movements for proof that even the seemingly impossible can be made possible through persistence and determined positivity. I was reminded of this book because Limón seems to have a similar ethos of purposefully seeking out hope.

“I still worry / and want an endless stream of more, / but some days I can see the point / in growing something, even if it’s / just to say I cared enough.” -from "Trying"

This is Limón's most personal poetry yet, unflinching and frank.

She also doesn't shy away from addressing the political mood. Perhaps the standout poem for me in this collection was "A New National Anthem," a subtle nod to the athletes protesting police brutality by kneeling during the playing of the anthem. She points out how unthinking and rote patriotism often is, and how it leaves no room to discuss our ugly history of slavery, war, etc. She suggests an alternative third stanza that invokes a more intentional and inclusive unity. In the following poem, "Cargo," she describes the ways the current administration's immigration policy has affected her sense of security as a Latinx woman and harmed her mental health ("both of our bloods requiring new medication").

I really connected with Limón's quiet rage, especially in poems like "Mastering" and "Sacred Objects." She writes about the anger and mistrust women must carry necessarily. Perhaps all the "good men" in the world should read these poems, and then maybe they would understand why women have trouble trusting "even" them.

Limón is writing less from a place of judgment or resistance, and more with an attitude of acceptance--meeting the world where it's at, making good out of the bad. This is a collection about the choices we make to get through the day, the ways we love the people we love, and the words we write to ground us.

I hesitate to share too many quotes because I think these poems deserve to be read without prior expectations. So I will close by saying that this collection is great for anyone who has loved Limón's work in the past, anyone feeling too sensitive to bear the world these days, and anyone who wishes Mary Oliver was just a little bit blunter sometimes (haha).

On the real though, Ada Limón is truly a poet for our time, and I think everyone should read this collection, even if poetry is not normally their jam.
Profile Image for Kaa.
564 reviews50 followers
April 7, 2022
I listened to this for the first time while walking my dogs and then repotting some new plants, and I am grateful to have experienced it outside. It really highlighted the feelings of place and of connection with the natural world across these poems. Beautiful poems that are furthered strengthened by thoughtful placement into this collection. I know I'll be listening to this again.
Profile Image for Ebony (EKG).
100 reviews356 followers
March 2, 2022
poems on grief, fertility, nature, the state of the world, and why it’s important to persevere and survive despite it all. the perfect poetry collection to read at the precipice of spring.
Profile Image for Richard S.
431 reviews63 followers
May 30, 2022
Ada Limon has such authenticity, truthfulness, and fearlessness and touches the reader so deeply one can ignore the general lack of craftsmanship, or is it subtly working there? I’ve tried to imitate her but I cannot. She’s not at all like lyric poets like Wilson or Gluck she’s very free-verse prosey, a poet you can recommend to someone who likes fiction.

Poems can touch you on many levels but Limon’s plain language has this way of touching a bit more deeply, maybe because without hiding behind the filter of poetic necessity she can reach inside like that. Her poems stylistically seem to run together but cover a variety of thoughts, perhaps mostly touchingly the poems on infertility, but she’s usually to the point of the poem rather quickly. There’s not much need to interpret here.

Easy free verse is not as easy as it looks, especially without reliance on tricks to get you across the finish line. It’s like a fine painting that looks like you could even do yourself until you look closely at the brushstrokes. There never a contrived or insincere moment.

Again strongly recommended for all especially prose readers who want to expand their horizons. This is poetry you can take to the beach. It also has a high level of rereadability. At 90 pages there’s a lot in there.
Profile Image for Stephanie.
Author 70 books999 followers
Currently reading
March 9, 2022
I checked this ebook out of the library after reading one of its poems (Wonder Woman) online and loving it.

Now I'm partway through and so many poems have stabbed me through the heart. The Raincoat! The Leash!

I'm trying to keep my reading slow, to savor every one, so I'm only partway through - but I can already tell you that I'll be buying a paper copy to keep and re-read many times in the future.
Profile Image for Jerrie.
989 reviews130 followers
January 28, 2019
Just finished up this wonderful collection. Many of the poems here deal with the body and the number of ways it can be an impediment in our lives - illness, infertility, beauty standards we fail to meet, etc. Many also dealt with caring for others - parents, friends, etc. A warm and honest collection about every day living.
Profile Image for Jordan.
255 reviews20 followers
October 30, 2018
This one's not for me. I'd prefer the poems with the last 2 or 3 lines cut. Such tidy little wrapped up endings, often written in a way to seem more profound than they really are.
Profile Image for talia ♡.
1,031 reviews200 followers
December 3, 2022
"What I Didn't Know Before" is one of the best poems ever written and i'm so serious. i remember reading it yearsss ago online and i stayed up for hours rereading it, making sure i memorized the whole thing.

ada limon is a gift.

What I Didn’t Know Before

was how horses simply give birth to other
horses. Not a baby by any means, not
a creature of liminal spaces, but a four-legged
beast hellbent on walking, scrambling after
the mother. A horse gives way to another
horse and then suddenly there are two horses,
just like that. That’s how I loved you. You,
off the long train from Red Bank carrying
a coffee as big as your arm, a bag with two
computers swinging in it unwieldily at your
side. I remember we broke into laughter
when we saw each other. What was between
us wasn’t a fragile thing to be coddled, cooed
over. It came out fully formed, ready to run.
Profile Image for Dan.
1,135 reviews52 followers
March 22, 2020
The Carrying by Ada Limón won the 2018 National Critics Choice Award for Best Book of Poetry.

I enjoyed this set of poems immensely. Limon’s free verse style is simple and tethered to our common experiences. Whether it’s a poem about driving across America, watching horses run across pastures, watching goldfinches flutter from one fence post to another, playing ‘would you rather’ with friends, harboring secrets, staring into future’s abyss, struggles with depression, these are all things a reader instantly recognizes.

The Dead Boy was an especially powerful poem for me. The narrator becomes mad at a boy, Griffin, after he dies from an overdose in their dorm at college. The selfish reaction of the narrator arises because of her attempts to revive him and of the painful memories of other friends and family members who have died, some also from drugs.

Her writing reminds me of the great poet Donald Hall, of whom I am a big fan.

5 stars.
Profile Image for Lauren.
401 reviews
July 3, 2018
(book twenty-three) Stayed up too late reading again, but when else do I get uninterrupted time to read? It’s too hot to go outside at all so Sylvie never naps and I get no reprieve. This book spoke so directly to me and rang with a chord so true that I don’t know what to say except that it stirred in me this strong urge to make things. I almost feel brave enough to write poems after reading this. Not because she makes it looks easy; no, it’s because they’re so dense and hard, yet light and beautiful that I want to use language that same way. And I think of the children I made and my knitting and meals and all the letters I used to write by hand. Exercises in living. Everyday beauty. I can’t do this justice. I just need to reread it, but also write as well.
Profile Image for Liz Mc2.
305 reviews19 followers
April 27, 2019
I loved these poems and look forward to reading more Limón. Poems about infertility, growth, love, creativity, the body. Adopting your boyfriend’s dead exes cats. Anger. Politics. Conversational, story-telling, glimpses of everyday life. The one that will stay with me most is “Instructions on Not Giving Up.” It starts with spring growth and ends here:

Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist, I’ll take it all.

Profile Image for merce.
80 reviews7 followers
November 14, 2022
god this makes it seem like i’ve been reading this all year. (which is good i did just say i don’t like reading poetry books in one sitting) i have nothing to say about this collection except how stunning and heart wrenching it was (as everything i’ve read by ada limon) and how delighted i am at the prospect of rereading it again and again and again

“it’s the greening of the trees / that really gets to me / (…) a return / to the strange idea of continuous living despite / the mess of us, the hurt, the empty”
Profile Image for Lyd Havens.
Author 10 books71 followers
August 31, 2020
I have wanted to read this since it was first released 2 years ago, & for one reason or another only just got to read it. Beyond worth the (self-imposed?) wait, and everything I needed right now. If you're also struggling to find hope right now, this collection might help.
Profile Image for Pyramids Ubiquitous.
495 reviews25 followers
August 24, 2022
Very good modern poetry imbued with the loves and frustrations of the quotidian. The voice and impact stand out more than the wordplay, and Limon does a great job of asserting herself in these pieces. There is a good range in mood, and the subject matter is primarily focused on nature, animals, daily struggles. The Carrying highlights the importance and fragility of everyday life.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 959 reviews

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