As part of the 2022 Dear Poet project, students around the country and the world wrote letters to Anis Mojgani in response to a video of him reading his poem “Leda” aloud. Anis Mojgani wrote letters back to four of these students; their letters and his replies are included below.
Anis Mojgani also wrote a response to all of the participants of this year's Dear Poet project.
Thank you so much for your letters. I feel so honored that a poem of mine was read or heard by you, and even more so that I then got to read words you wrote down that I got to read. Poets one may be, without ever writing a poem, for poems exist whether we put their language down on paper or do not. The poem is happening, around us, and inside of us, and sometimes we see it, sometimes we hear it, and sometimes we then do write it down. But whether we do or don’t do this, the poem exists. And all the letters I read, were for me, poems.
The letters I got to read were so gracious and giving of you who wrote them, opening up so unabashedly whether by way of your thoughts on the poem you read or your ideas on what the poem is about or what it is you love about poetry or about your own lives. What a gift to read all this openness from you young folks scattered across the country, what a gift to be invited to bear witness, even from afar, even in such a small way, to your lives, especially in these times we are in, where there seems to be at times so much distance between our hearts, a distance made greater by the physical distance we have all had to keep over these recent challenging years. And particularly the distance you and the other young persons out there have had to somehow steer, with grace and strength, and still able to hold space for wonder and curiosity and to also draw closer to those things.
Several of you were particularly curious about the inspiration and the under meanings of some of the things in my poem “Leda,” especially the scenes it describes or the language it uses that seem to be on far sides of the spectrum and at times ideas, images, or words laying beside one another in a conflicting juxtaposition.
I wrote this poem many years ago, during a hard time in my life, a time of great sadness and sorrow, a time when my sorrow threatened to swallow my life, or at least forever chain its weight to myself. A time when my grief was a patient and loving teacher to lead me to both that which of myself I had forgotten and also to new growings of it, both familiar though forgotten blossoms and brand new bloomings inside of me. And some of that happened by way of writing poems, poems like “Leda.”
And I share this for two reasons. Three rather, as my ambling heart and rambling tongue are sometimes prone to more words when speaking on poetry.
1. As the wonderful and kind Naomi Shihab Nye has said, we are living inside a poem. We are inside many poems. And sometimes it is by writing the poem down, that we find the doors inside that poem that will lead us towards whatever new beautiful poetry awaits for us to arrive. We are continuously transforming and a poem, whether we are writing or reading one, can often help us in this.
2. The aforementioned experience––of sorrow being both sad and also joy––is what “Leda” ultimately rests inside of, I think; how there is always transformation happening. Even when we feel all of one thing, part of us is experiencing a newness, part of us has already crossed a threshold into a new space waiting the arrival of the rest of us, and so it is perhaps maybe good and imperative for us to both honor the pain of that which hurts and also what feathers perhaps grew. Which is what lies at the heart of the poem, how often and maybe always, that which we experience might not be all of one thing, but have shades and facets of multiple ideas and feelings.
3. As mentioned, this poem was written several years ago, and so I do not recall if it had a specific point of inspiration or was simply written in response to wherever on the river the water of my days were carrying me. Most likely the latter, as that is how I generally write, by simply sitting in the space of my heart and giving it the allowance to say whatever it may be holding at that time. And because of this, this allows me to be both the writer of a poem, and also a reader of a poem––and in the second role, whatever I feel as a result of the poem may be less connected to the reasons I wrote it and more connected to where I am in my life when I am reading it, I get to be like you, as if I am maybe reading something for the first time and seeing how it might speak to me. Which I love.
I’m grateful to have gotten the chance to share with you something of mine, and to also in return have gotten to be shared with something of yours, and to also, because of both of these, having the chance to visit a poem of mine in a new way with things inside of it newly revealing themselves to me as a result. Our world right now, is perhaps like this too, perhaps also like the poem talked about here, is I think in a place of leaving what it once was and becoming something not yet formed, not yet known by us living inside of it, which can be scary, which is scary, for a number of reasons. But I love that amongst this, somewhere there are young people reading poems and having a poem speak to them, and perhaps learning what it is about poetry that is important to them, and as a result maybe also learning what of their self is important to them too. I love getting a little view of this, thank you for letting me.
I hope this finds you spirited, and in an hour of gentleness.