April 17, 2015
Academy of American Poets
Dear Arthur Sze,
To me, your poem, The Chance, is white. White is clarity. White is pure, clean and white. Your words washed over me and made me think in a new way. I used to always be worried that I wouldn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to be a vet maybe, no a singer, no, an environmental lawyer. I didn’t know what to do with my life, and I kept thinking I was running out of time to find my path. I felt like there was a clock inside me, ticking away the time I had to make my mark. Soon that clock would strike twelve, and I would be left standing between two closed doors.
Now, though, I am comforted in new knowledge. Even though your poem was about wanting to know what to do with your life, somehow, it made me feel reassured. You might be thinking, how did my poem about needing to find what you love to do calm her down? I don’t exactly know why. All I know is that it has changed my life. I have realized that I will find my ironwood. It might not be for a while. I might not even end up doing that with my life. But everybody has a passion, a spark, a flame, that grows and grows. I don’t want to end up trapped in the chains of choosing the wrong path. And I won’t. Somehow, I know that I will find what I love to do. I won’t choose wrong.
I feel like I know you personally, although we have never met. I have wondered about your poem: You talk about choosing the right path. Have you chosen the right path with your life? And is your poem supposed to be read at a faster tempo, to represent life, or at a slow tempo, to represent how long it takes to find your passion in life? The one question I have always asked myself is: What am I going to do with my life? Now, though I have found a half answer. I don’t know yet. The key word being yet. Someday, I will know what to do.
May 1, 2015
It is such a pleasure to read your amazing letter!
I’m glad my poem has given you confidence to take your time and search for a path in life that is fulfilling. In today’s world, there is far too much pressure to choose, all too soon. Instead of fixating single-mindedly on a goal or end—you so powerfully describe the isolating feeling of this pressure as, “Soon that clock would strike twelve, and I would be left standing between two closed doors”—it’s good to honor the process of discovery and realize that, rather than see or foresee a clear path or goal, one can also discover one’s path a step at a time. Theodore Roethke, a marvelous poet, once wrote in “The Waking”: “I learn by going where I have to go.”
I have indeed found my path in life through poetry. If you find something you love to do, clock time is inconsequential; and, if you nurture that passion, you will discover a path that is essential and liberating. Poetry, to me, is as essential as breathing. And, when I write, I love being able to mistake and blunder and eventually discover new possibilities in language. Your question about the tempo of a poem is a wonderful one. “The Chance” should not be read at a fast tempo. It’s important for a reader to have time to carefully consider the words and fully experience the sounds and rhythms. I envision the pace as that of good conversation.
Your letter is full of such poise, insight, vision and depth that I hope you will take up the pen to write your own poems! And I wish you the very best.