Poet Laureate Limón Reads Poetry for Annual Stellfox Lecture


February 16, 2023 Dickinson College hosted Ada Limón, the 24th Poet Laureate of the United States and author of six books, to give a public reading and hold a book signing at the annual Stellfox ceremony. The Harold and Ethel L. Stellfox Program brings notable authors to campus to honor their work at an award ceremony.

This year’s event took place in Allison Hall, with a reception beforehand. Limón wrote the majority of her most recent book, “The Hurting Kind,” during the pandemic, and she admits it was difficult for her to find the value in poetry in a time like 2020.

President John E. Jones started the ceremony with a brief history of the event. Jones said that the award is named after the parents of Jean Louis Stellfox, a Dickinson graduate, who met Robert Frost in her third year at Dickinson in 1959. Stellfox was inspired by her encounter with Frost, which prompted her to become a dedicated English teacher. 

Unfortunately, Stellfox passed a short time after her retirement, in which she planned to travel the world, and the money she saved was given to Dickinson College with clear instructions to carry on her passion for English. The Stellfox Visiting Scholars and Writers Program was created in her honor. 

Limón said of Jones’ story about Jean Louis Stellfox, “It feels fortuitous in some ways, because I found poetry, for real and all the good seriousness of it, in my junior year of college…I was in my very first class, and I thought, ‘Oh, I love this!’” 

Limón followed a brief introduction with ten poems: “Instructions on Not Giving Up,” “Give Me This,”  “Forsythia,” “The Magnificent Frigatebird,” “Joint Custody,” “Calling Things What They Are,” “Open Water,” “Mountain Lion,” “Heart on Fire,” “Salvage” and “The End of Poetry”. She politely checked in on the audience from time to time, smiling, joking, sharing personal stories and somber moments during her slow, gentle readings. 

The Q&A following the reading gave Dickinson students and Carlisle locals the chance to speak with Limón. In response to a question about her priorities being the Poet Laureate, Limón said, “Being a public poet is never a thought when you start out as a writer. You think, ‘Oh good. I’ll have a lot of alone time.’ My number one job is to elevate poetry, to spread the word of poetry, and to spread talent. I think so many incredible poets before me have done the work of letting people know that poetry exists. I want to focus on what it has done and what it can do. I actually would like to focus on the fact that the problem with poetry is not to make us feel one thing or the other, but just to simply make us feel.” 

During her two-day residency at Dickinson college, Limón ensured her readers that any interpretation or emotions evoked from her poems are correct. After explaining her poem “Invasive,” Limón said to students, “I’m saying this explanation of my own process, but I want you to know that whatever you think of the poem and however you describe it is absolutely correct.” In her poetic nature Limón explained to her attentive audience her belief that poetry, of course, has a purpose, and that purpose is different for everyone and it may be different each day.