As part of the 2021 Dear Poet project, students around the country and the world wrote letters to Elizabeth Jacobson in response to a video of her reading her poem "14 Love Poems” aloud. Elizabeth Jacobson wrote letters back to four of these students; their letters and her replies are included below.
Elizabeth Jacobson also wrote a response to all of the participants of this year's Dear Poet project.
Dear thoughtful, inquisitive, insightful people,
What a pleasure to read your words, not only about my poem 14 Love Songs, but to have your questions about love and life and to get a sense of your days as you experience them now. I wish I could respond to each one of you, and please know that I am incredibly grateful to each one of you who read, contemplated my poem, and wrote to me about it. This is how we build a community of poets and thinkers – how we keep a conversation going about art and humanity – and in this way foster compassion for each other and the myriad creatures we share our world with.
Many of you asked how I conceived this poem, what I meant by some of its lines, and if I was trying to understand what love meant to me. I am always trying to understand what love means! But this poem happened in a specific way: A very dear friend of mine was dying from cancer and we had had a conversation about the many people who were contacting him, telling him how much they loved him. Although he was grateful for these correspondences, they also confused him as he wasn’t sure what was meant when friends and acquaintances said they loved him. The root of this poem began when I thought carefully about what it is that I mean when I say I love someone, and I decided that what it meant to me was that I was in the relationship for the duration – the good and the bad – and this, in many ways, may be a common understanding, and why I believe so many of you related to my line: “What I mean when I say I love you is that I wouldn't leave you”
Some of you wrote that you felt seen and exposed in a vulnerable way, that my poem made you realize that you were afraid of love. One of the things I hope my poem does is show how in the face of terror one may access love, keeping us open to possibility. When one stays open, one is vulnerable, but at the same time a person can let the magnificence of life flood in. Of course, it can be scary at times to take chances, to display our feelings. Poetry shows us that many people share the same feelings and in this way, we accompany each other in our lives.
It is a huge honor that you have taken the time to read and think about my poem and to learn the various ways the poem ignited your imaginations. Your questions and insights have helped me to understand my poem better for myself. One eleventh grader wondered if the fourteen lines of the poem represented the fourteen days it takes for the new moon to transition to the full moon and although I had not thought of this as an aspect of the poem, of course it makes perfect sense! Poem writing is often a mysterious process, full of big surprises, especially for the poet herself.
All my best wishes to each one of you,