Up recently at Buzzfeed, Limón’s 2015 poem is exemplar of one of contemporary talk-poetry’s favorite modes: shallow identity verse. In this mode, a speaker marginalized or abused by social norms stages a simulated, generally cosmetic, triumph, favoring the ready-made over the hard work of mining for sorrow’s source. Tiresome antics mock honest revelation; the poems are utterly devoid of surprise.
Limón’s poem is, quite frankly, a counterfeit. It presents a bogus feminism wielded for the eyes of editors and an audience eager to be ‘allies.’ It has no register to speak of: it offers, instead, a locale that feels exotic to Stateside readers; in that exoticism (never the alien, always the ‘exotic’) the palliatives of relatable scenario (the ‘fed up’ ‘ex-girlfriend,’ the ‘Guess billboard in New York City’) and daft, re-inscribed, eye-rollingly obvious metaphor (lover ‘at a friend’s / body shop,’ then ‘the bitch / working our ways around / the souped-up corvettes and the power tools’); last, that shellacked faux-apex, ‘I lifted my skirt and pissed / like the hard bitch I was.’
The poem’s final symbolic reclamation is, of course, completely, absolutely exhausted, done, valedictory, cloying, sophomoric. The speaker would prefer the ‘power’ of a tyke, a rake, over that of a realized, fought-for self. The speaker would prefer Google’s article summary.
The speaker would appear at AWP.
For good measure, Limón has built a simplistic, human-centered sense of animal relation into “Service.” This is a devolved version of the pathetic fallacy; the dog (unsurprisingly, ‘bitch’) precedes the speaker in her hackneyed ‘rebellion’; the dog’s ‘rescue mission’ is to guide the speaker to urinating on ‘one of the car’s dropped canvases.’ Ada Limón: let’s at least keep the small thinking to our own species.
A poem like “Service” will never be able to defend itself qua poem, on the basis of craft. It is a motivation darling; it survives only by claiming it ‘tried.’ And tried at what? Finally, to be a mannequin completed by its painted snarl. Bravo.