Sit Down with Ada Limón and Her Poetry Program in America's National Parks

'You Are Here' features installations of poetry on picnic tables in seven parks
Photo by Shawn Miller/Library of Congress

Ada Limón, the twenty-fourth poet laureate of the United States, is launching her signature project. You Are Here, a series of poetry installations in national parks. 

Ada Limón, the twenty-fourth United States poet laureate, has frequently written about nature in her six poetry books. Her poems are populated not only by friends and family, but also by groundhogs and kingfishers, bees and cockroaches, owls and Eastern towhees, foxes and rodents, squirrels and gray whales, monarch butterflies and whiptail lizards, and ticks and snakes. Limón pens lines about rivers, leaves, buttercups, redbuds, wild pansies, snapdragons, violet moon vinca, thistles, kissing trees, and soil in her hands. 

Given Limón’s appreciation of the natural environment, it’s no wonder that one of her major initiatives as poet laureate is adding poetry to seven of the country’s national parks. In June, Limón will launch You Are Here: Poetry in Parks. The program will install metal picnic tables engraved with poems she selected, such as one with “Can You Imagine?” by Mary Oliver in Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts and another with “Ecology” by June Jordan in Everglades National Park in Florida. As part of the project, You Are Here also includes a new anthology of nature poems edited by Limón. The book features work by living American poets and was published in April by Milkweed Editions in association with the Library of Congress.

Library of Congress

The project also includes an anthology of nature poetry alongside the installations in Mount Rainier National Park, Cape Cod National Seashore, Redwood National and State Parks, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Everglades National Park, and Saguaro National Park.

“I worked with the National Park Service and the Poetry Society of America and the Library of Congress to choose which parks would be the best to launch these installations,” Limón said. “Many of them are close to my heart, and I’m so thrilled to go visit them this summer and fall.”

As a child, Limón visited the redwoods of California. “I still remember driving there with my parents and how in awe I was at the sheer enormity of the trees,” she said. 

In her early twenties, Limón lived for a year near Cape Cod National Seashore on a fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts. “The seashore was where I spent most of my time,” Limón said. “I remember feeling most at ease when I was walking by the ocean. It was right after September 11, 2001, and it brought me the most peace when I could feel small and connected to something larger, like the ocean.”

Limón noted that putting poetry in national parks offers literature in unexpected places and provides visitors with language that attempts to capture the emotions of the ineffable natural surroundings. 

“I think it’s important to feel small, to feel a sense of wonder and awe,” she said. “It’s very hard to get out of your own head these days, and I think nature really allows us to feel like we could disappear and dissolve into the landscape around us. We need that feeling. It takes away the idea of always being the center of the story.”

The literary picnic tables also casually introduce poetry to national parks visitors who may not seek it out.  Asked why national parks are appropriate places for poetry, Limón responded, “They are both places of wonder and for curiosity. Even in the most beautiful of places, we tend to be distracted by our own thoughts. Poetry can help bring you back into the present moment. My hope is that these beautiful poetry installations will help folks slow down and really notice where they are.”