As part of the 2021 Dear Poet project, students around the country and the world wrote letters to Assétou Xango in response to a video of them reading their poem “Terpsichore” aloud. Assétou Xango wrote letters back to four of these students; the letters and replies are included below.
Assétou Xango also wrote a response to all of the participants of this year's Dear Poet project.
I was so moved by the time and effort you took to dive deeply into my work, Terpsichore. Your letters show a profound understand of the nuisance and personal meanings that I poured into the piece, and it feels incredible to be fully seen. Thank you for giving a bit of yourself in return. I am so moved.
I wish I could write all of you back; I feel like we have entered a sacred dialogue that I want to honor. I hope that this can be a substitute. I want to address some of the most common questions and show you all appreciation for your in-depth understanding of my work.
Why did I choose to write from Terpischore's perspective?
If you have read more of my work, you may have come across another one of my pieces, Eve, in which I use the voice of the first woman of the earth to describe the mistreatment of womyn, particularly black women, throughout history. I have done similar things in poems like Define, which bring in the Hindu Goddess Kali as a central figure to talk about the strength of womyn. I am often drawn to using mythical figures to tell the story of my experiences.
The fictional characters in stories reflect the culture’s perspective. When we see reoccurring, stereotypical characters, we can understand how society views people with these social identities. By turning it on its head, I get to reveal the absurdity of the label.
How do I find the strength to be me?
Many of you picked up on the feminist undertones of my work and even recognized how personal the subject matter must be for me to have such emotions behind the words. Many of my writings are different ways of conveying my intimate encounters; my hurts, my pain, and my struggle to find my power. As for how I find the strength and safety in a world that is notoriously unsafe for people who look like me, I find it through poetry. I find it through conversations like these, where I get to talk to students from across the U.S. and backgrounds even further about what it’s like to me, and you share with me small aspects of your world, your hurts, and your victories.
That is how I find strength. I am vulnerable and authentically me and look to connect with others brave enough to be themselves. It reminds me of how tender-hearted the world is. It reminds me that if I am me, I am constantly permitting others to do the same. It is a practice, not a place of arrival. I still feel afraid, I can feel lonely and low, but moments like these remind me that there is no better path for me.
so much for taking the time to read and write to me. I am eternally grateful and hope to speak with you again.