Poets Ada Limón and Assoc. Prof. Matthew Zapruder Bring Poetry to Life at SMC

Ada Limon and Professor Matthew ZapruderOn Wednesday, Sept. 11, a constellation of poems came to life in Saint Mary’s Hagerty Lounge. As one of the inaugural events of the Afro-Latinx/Latinx/Indigenous Heritage Celebration, the Creative Writing Reading Series brought renowned writer Ada Limón to join Professor Matthew Zapruder at the mic. Both used their poetry to give voice to emotions spanning rage, humor, and patriotism.

Limón is a force in the poetry world, with an impressive five poetry anthologies under her belt, in addition to serving as a faculty member in the MFA Writing program at the Queens University of Charlotte. Limón’s poems are ethereal things, seeming to float in the world between reality and daydreams. Her work shimmers with an effervescence that reminds you of how quickly beautiful things can slip through your fingers. 

Meanwhile, Zapruder, author of the New York Times bestseller Why Poetry? and the newly released anthology Father’s Day, his fifth poetry collection, is a fixture of the Saint Mary’s English Department as an associate professor in the MFA Creative Writing program. If Limón’s work is ethereal, Zapruder’s work is grounded firmly in humor. With his wry voice and frequent self-deprecation, he exudes affability. His poems, especially read when read out loud by him on this night, beckoned like old friends, with a warmth and ease that left the audience at Hagerty Lounge spellbound. Poetry may have a reputation for being complex and difficult to understand, but Zapruder and Limón both have a knack for creating that rare thing: a poem that is as open-faced as it is complex. 

Zapruder frequently situates his poetry in periods of transition: “Graduation Day,” a piece describing commencement from a faculty member’s point of view, chronicles how it feels to “move through feeling to something else.” Meanwhile, “Paul Ryan,” written about exactly the Paul Ryan you’re thinking of, involves Zapruder both screaming at and kissing Ryan’s corpse in the world of the poem. A study in rage during the aftermath of the election, the quietly seething work left the audience in hysterics.

Limón followed Zapruder’s reading with selections from her own work that mirrored the emotional trajectory of Zapruder’s poems. A particular favorite of the night was her poem “A New National Anthem,” which skewered the brand of patriotism rooted in rote recitation of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” as Limón wondered why feeling something “in your bones” isn’t enough for one to be labeled American. She called for a new brand of patriotism, one grounded in authenticity instead of ceremony, and this conversational voice permeated all of her poems. This call for authenticity extended to the Q&A after the reading, in which students from SMC’s MFA program and undergraduates of all disciplines asked the writers for advice and insights on the process of creating. Zapruder and Limón both praised their network of writer friends, singling out each other as champions of their work and as someone who inspired them to be their own best selves. One thing is for certain—all left Hagerty Lounge feeling the warmth and humanity of these two brilliant writers.