As part of the 2022 Dear Poet project, students around the country and the world wrote letters to Dorianne Laux in response to a video of her reading her poem “What's Broken” aloud. Dorianne Laux wrote letters back to eight of these students; their letters and her replies are included below.
Dorianne Laux also wrote a response to all of the participants of this year's Dear Poet project.
Dear Young Poets:
Thank you all for reading these poems and for the letters you wrote, letters that often felt like poems. So beautifully and thoughtfully written, so filled with stories and life. I grew up writing letters, to relatives, to friends, and later to my husband and my daughter when I or they were away. Then the internet came with email and texting and though I love the speed of it, I miss the lazy feeling of writing a letter, spending time with my own thoughts and feelings and talking to someone else over the long miles between us. I remember running to the mailbox to see if a letter for me had arrived. My excitement opening it, or my disappointment when the box was empty. I loved slipping photos inside or stickers or little drawings. My mother used to send me articles from newspapers, often about poetry, or send me a poem she had read. I saved them in old shoeboxes and read them again and again, or years later, remembering what I was like back then, what I was doing and thinking about.
All these letters from you felt so warm and welcoming, so personal, and now I feel I know you in a way I wouldn’t if it had been an email or a text. I think people say things in letters they might not feel they had the time to say in an email or text. You enter a different state of mind. I think it’s the same state of mind I enter when I’m writing a poem, kind of dreamy, as if I’m speaking to a good friend, someone I trust.
It’s funny, two of the first poems I read and fell in love with were “epistolary”, which means letter poems. One was by the world famous poet Pablo Neruda called “Letter to Miguel Otero Silva, In Caracas (1948)." The other was by a contemporary American poet named Carolyn Forche called “As Children Together”. Maybe you can find those poems on the internet. See, the internet good for many things! Read those poems and then write an epistolary of your own. It could be to someone you know, or to someone you wish you knew. A “love letter” to someone you miss. Or a letter to someone you can’t talk to, a beloved dog or cat, a grandparent who has died, a flower, a horse, the moon, or a tree! That’s what’s great about poems: they can be about anything.
So thank you again for your letters. I will end with the final lines of Pablo Neruda’s letter poem to his friend, Miguel:
…But today has been too much for me: not only one sea bird,
but thousands have gone past my window,
and I have picked up the letters no one reads, letters they take along
to all the shores of the world until they lose them.
then in each of those letters I read the words of yours,
and they resembled the words I write, and dream of, and put in poems,
and so I decided to send this letter to you, which I will end here,
so I can watch through the window the world that is ours.
Yours in poetry,