As part of the 2022 Dear Poet project, students around the country and the world wrote letters to Kari Gunter-Seymour in response to a video of her reading her poem “I Come From a Place So Deep Inside America It Can't Be Seen” aloud. Kari Gunter-Seymour wrote letters back to five of these students; their letters and her replies are included below.
Kari Gunter-Seymour also wrote a response letter to all of the participants of this year's Dear Poet project.
I am more honored than you could possibly imagine that you read my poem “I Come From A Place So Deep Inside America It Can’t be Seen,” and that you took the time to write to me with some of your thoughts and observations concerning my words. For me, sorting and organizing words, writing poems, is as necessary as breathing. I don’t choose to write poems—I simply must. Writing poems helps me focus on my sense of place in the world.
Many of you were pleased to experience a bit of my Appalachian culture and gain a bit of understanding about deep rural living. Some of you made remarks concerning stereotype. Several of you shared that you, too, have been told at one time or another that you are “ugly” or “not enough” or “less than” and expressed how painful and difficult that can be to overcome. Others commented on how much our society puts pressure on us to be “more” or to pretend to be someone we are not and how hard that makes it for us to have self-confidence. These were all extraordinary observations, and I am so delighted that you picked up on these issues and took time to examine and write about them. Sharing common concerns, discovering we are not alone in our sorrow, helps to strengthen our confidence and feelings of self-worth.
Everyone made remarks about the poem’s “emotion” and connection to nature, its imagery, the way it mixes sadness with hopefulness, how it calls back through generations and speaks of the loss of traditions; the way the poem finds both beauty and longing at the end. Most agreed that, indeed, “everything alive aches for more.”
I want to tell you a little more about what it can be like to be Appalachian. People call us “hillbilly” and “hick.” because they don’t have a true understanding of us, our history, or our culture. Many Appalachians talk with a twang in our voice (not all). We are hard-working people so we often have work clothes on and might have some dirt beneath our fingernails; but we are also teachers, physicians, CEO’s, senators, actors, and rock stars. We believe in family and honor, and we love the land. And when I say family, sometimes our “family” isn’t just our blood family, but it’s our community, folks we cherish the most.
I am a ninth-generation Appalachian located in Ohio (Central) Appalachia, so I don’t have mountains, I have foothills, lush rich farmlands, lots of sky and fresh air. A lot of people don’t even know that about a quarter of the state of Ohio rests in Appalachia proper, and that there are pockets of Appalachians throughout Ohio who migrated north to find work just before, during, and after the Great Depression and World War II. I come from a long line of farmers. When I was a child, we ate “high on the hog” because, literally, my grandparents raised the hog and most of the other food we ate!
Many of you asked what inspires my poetry. I write about things I have observed, or something I have experienced myself, or been told or overheard. This is known as “place-based” or “regionally-based” poetry. I have done research about my ancestors and have discovered all kinds of wonderful generational family stories. I often try to put myself into the shoes of my ancestors by trying to imagine what their lives were like. In my family (and many Appalachian families) music is important, so it just comes naturally to me to add music into the mix, because to me poetry is music; I always find a musicality in words, and people often talk about the musicality of my poetry. I purposely choose words and phrases that are specifically associated with my region and my people to help bring the reader into my “neck of the woods.”
Again, I thank you for choosing to read my poem and setting aside time to write to me. I hope you will read many poems throughout your lifetime, maybe even share a few with family and friends. Perhaps you will decide (or have decided) to write poems of your own. Never be afraid to write your truths, no matter how “different” or “odd” they might seem. They are yours, which makes them unique, one-of-a-kind and oh, so special—just as you are!
With respect and gratitude,