A letter from Ella G. (Richmond, Vermont):
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Dear Ms. Waldman,
My name is Ella G. and I am a 7th grader from Vermont. I am very much in awe of your poetry, and would like to give you my most sincere thanks for giving me and others the opportunity to write to you and other fine poets. This is an incredible experience for me, and Ihope that you will read my letter.
I have had the opportunity to read several of your poems, including “The Lie” and “Cabin.” I especially enjoy your poems because they made a strong connection with how I interpret life. I really liked “Cabin” because it was describing a simple object, but paints a beautiful and elaborate image in my mind. The last stanza is simple, but very descriptive. When I read it, I could imagine the “gradual turn of season, ground stir, pine/ needle tickle your shoulder, peak curve, fresh air.” I am wondering whether you have a cabin of your own, or have experience[d] this, because it seems hard to believe you weren’t describing what you saw and smelled as you wrote [“Cabin.”]
I have a journal that I keep simply for the purpose of writing down my thoughts, and random lines for poems I hope to complete someday. Do you have a similar notebook? Personally, most of my poems come from single lines that I scribbled down when they came into my head. I often think that this may be where many great poems are created.
To me, poetry is very important and is something that should be treasured for life. Do you think that the present world has a large amount of respect for poetry? I usually think that many people are too caught up in daily business to have time to read or write poetry, a fact which often makes me wish there was more time in the day. I think that more poetry in the world would give many people a better view of the world.
I am incredibly thankful for poetry, because it helps me focus on small details. Do you feel the same way? Poetry helps my mind open up to the world around me, and find beauty in the simplest objects. I believe the best poetry comes from finding simple beauty in the most common things, and describing those objects or ideas in a unique way.
Again, I would like to thank you for presenting this opportunity to myself and many others. I am awed to have the chance to connect with another avid poet, and to be able to feel as though my questions will be thought about. May poetry continue to flow through our lives.
Anne Waldman responds:
May 22, 2013
Thank you for your thoughtful letter and questions, and the notion of how “poems interpret life.” I have always appreciated the poet William Carlos Williams’s dictum: “No ideas but in things,” which does not mean “no ideas.” That our imaginations
may run wild and free but that we are in touch with the tangibles in our specific and grounded realities. William Blake spoke of “minute particulars” and suggested we “look to the little ones.” “Cabin” was in fact based on life in a cabin for a time, in Colorado. One becomes quite attuned to the seasons, the natural world, and the human’s modest place in it, in such an environment. In a recent long-poem project, “Manatee/Humanity,” which takes on endangered species, I tried to feel the rhythms of this strange water bound creature, with “more grey matter in the brain than man.” The details of other life forms are fascinating.
Yes, keep a journal all the time! Perhaps several. One for dreams, one for travel, one for copying out excerpts of things you like, or clippings, images, postcards. It is interesting to catch overheard conversations as well. What people say. Try “snapshot poetics”- describe a picture in words. You never know where a poem might arise. My recent work has worked with this montage-like method where I draw on many sources.
Poetry is the most important practice and reality in my life. The slogan at Naropa University where I work during our Summer Writing Program is “keep the world safe for poetry!” We talk about “temporary autonomous zones for poetry.” We encourage community support and collaboration.
You can start your own little magazine, offset or online, you can have a gathering of like-minded friends where you read poems you enjoy together (I did this in middle school).
But it is an exciting time for poetry, and I am in contact with so many communities that honor poetry- from academic, to non-institutional places. I would say poetry is alive and well, yet still needs to be fought for in our culture. It is not a lucrative “career move.” So do your best…and yes, poetry will continue to flow through our lives. Support poetry. Get your library to order poetry books. Tell your friends about the Academy of American Poets website. One of our other mottos is “Poetry wakes the world up to itself!”
Onward and all the best,