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Common Reading 2022: Instructions on Not Giving Up by Ada Limón

Instructions on Not Giving Up — Ada Limón

“Instructions on Not Giving Up” is a poem by Ada Limón about the cycles of nature and moving forward, finding the beauty in the blossoming of spring.

Discussion Questions

1. How does this poem compare to other poems you have read in the past? 

2. What emotions do you come away with after reading the poem? Do you feel any sort of connection to it? Why or why not? 

Class Activity

For 1-2 minutes, write down a list of anything (words, phrases, etc.) that comes to mind when you think of the word “renewal.” Then choose your favorite idea from the list and spend 10 minutes writing a poem or freewriting with that idea as the focus. 

Introduction — Louie Land

Around the time I first discovered Ada Limón’s poetry, the poet Brian Blanchfield told me, “A poem is a thinking thing.” This implies two meanings. The first—“a thinking thing”—suggests that the poem itself has cognition; the second—“a thinking thing”—suggests the poem is a process by which the author thinks through something. The second of those interpretations is more interesting to me. A work of art, especially a poem, should seem larger than itself. Whether addressing a theme, advocating a social position, or generating a particular atmosphere, a poem should invite further thinking into it. 

Ada Limón’s “Instructions on Not Giving Up” is a sonnet, a fourteen-line historical form that finds its origins as an expression of courtly love. A rigidly formal sonnet would employ a particular rhyme scheme (Limón’s poem doesn’t), but another distinguishing feature of the sonnet form is that the first eight lines often propose an argument or situation to which the latter six lines respond. 

Limón’s poem follows this structure nearly perfectly: the beginning of the sonnet proposes the situation, implying a question of “What are the instructions for not giving up?” and the latter six lines answer: “the leaves come.” The poem renders the “greening of the trees,” inviting us to think further, as the poem does, about the seasonal renewal that comes with spring. 

As you read, consider: how do the first eight lines of the poem differ from the last six lines? What images does Limón use to capture the renewal of spring? In what way might the poem be “thinking” about the renewal of spring, and the embodied experience of the speaker contemplating this renewal?

About the Author

Ada Limón is originally from Sonoma, California. As a child, she was greatly influenced by the visual arts and artists, including her mother. In 2001, she received an MFA from the Creative Writing Program at New York University. She is the author of The Carrying (Milkweed Editions, 2018) and Bright Dead Things (Milkweed Editions, 2015), which was a finalist for the National Book Award.

Additional Resources

Check out Ada Limón's website here!

PBS Books has a video on Limón, titled "Ada Limón | Trailblazing American Women Writers Project." The video provides an overview of Limón's accomplishments, mixing them with clips from interviews with the author.

Limón discusses her process for writing “Instructions on Not Giving Up” in an article on Oprah Daily. Check it out here!


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