As part of the 2022 Dear Poet project, students around the country and the world wrote letters to Aileen Cassinetto in response to a video of her reading her poem “There are no kings in America” aloud. Aileen Cassinetto wrote letters back to ten of these students; their letters and her replies are included below.
Aileen Cassinetto also wrote a response to all of the participants of this year's Dear Poet project.
I’m deeply honored by your thoughtful reading of my poem, “There are no kings in America.” Your letters moved me more than I can ever tell you. A question that came up many times was: what inspired me to write this poem. Poetry is a story of being human. It is a way to make, to witness, to advocate, and to resist. I wrote this poem three years ago in response to immigration reforms that I felt were unnecessarily cruel and dehumanizing. It was a hard poem to write in that it necessitated reading articles, reports and first-person narratives of loss, despair and sacrifice. However, it was important to me that my poem will also be one of hope and resilience. I wanted to juxtapose present-day stories of migration with the founding principles which built this nation. At the heart of my poem is the question of what it truly means to be American.
Some of you also asked me if I believed in the American Dream and what it meant to me. No one comes to America without believing in the American Dream. The issue is that the American Dream has been redefined so many times over the last one hundred years. I think that it means different things to different people, and is now mostly associated with success, wealth and well-being. However, the American Dream was originally about equality, justice and democracy. When I first came to America, it was easier and more acceptable to say that I came here for economic reasons and to reunite with my family. In my heart of hearts, though, I came because I knew I could be a poet here.
Lastly, you asked me why I write poetry. I write poetry because it offers a world of possibilities and the possibility of a better world. I write poetry because there are stories that need to be told, and a kinder future that asks to be pursued. I hope that you will keep writing. I hope that you will keep reading poetry. I hope that you will also find a way to tell your story through a poem. Thank you so much for your beautiful letters. It’s an honor to read them and get to know you. I wish you every bright and good thing.
With much respect and my very best wishes,