As part of the 2022 Dear Poet project, students around the country and the world wrote letters to Forrest Gander in response to a video of him reading his poem “The Conversation” aloud. Forrest Gander wrote letters back to seven of these students; their letters and his replies are included below.
Forrest Gander also wrote a response to all of the participants of this year's Dear Poet project.
Dear Students (and your teachers)—
It’s kind of amazing to hear from so many of you about my small poem, “The Conversation.” I guess many of you are about the same age as the boy (as I imagine him) in the poem, and many of you have told me that you’ve had similar experiences. I think that’s the cool thing about art and poetry for me—that sometimes it can make me “see” something common in a new way. Or it can articulate a feeling I’ve had before that I never could quite put into words myself. So it—art and/or poetry—comes to help me understand myself. Often, with that new understanding or insight, I feel expanded. Like I’m taking bigger breaths. Like I’m more of who I hope to be.
I know that sometimes looking at a poem in order to “decipher its meaning” can be boring. We want to feel something in our lives. We don’t want to think that behind every word is a hidden meaning that it takes years for us to learn to understand. But I also think that encountering things that we don’t understand at first can be really important. (If what we encounter is always familiar and easy, we never really learn to stretch out who we are, to push our boundaries, to become more than who we were before). And with a little practice reading poetry, often with a good teacher, you pick up some interpretive reading skills that can help you when you find yourself in other circumstances where you don’t know at first how to respond to something in your life.
I’m hugely grateful for your responses and for the very fact of you reading and responding to poetry. I hope many of you will go on to write poems yourselves. You may be able to give voice to your own uncertainties—and at the same time, you might find that you’ve been able to help others find words for their own disquiet.