As part of the 2022 Dear Poet project, students around the country and the world wrote letters to Kwame Dawes in response to a video of him reading his poem “Purple” aloud. Kwame Dawes wrote letters back to ten of these students; their letters and his replies are included below.
Kwame Dawes also wrote a response to all of the participants of this year's Dear Poet project.
Thank you for choosing my poem, “Purple” to read and to write your thoughts about. In the letters I have found so much that is encouraging to me about the way that the poem successfully passes onto you readers the feelings that I had when writing the poem.
As you might have suspected, the poem is based on an actual incident with my daughter, Akua. Akua is the youngest of my three children. She is an adult now and a brilliant lawyer. The incident happened when she was at university, and we had gone for a walk through some public gardens. I saw the lavender shrub and was drawn to it. I rubbed the leaves and put my fingers to my nose, expecting that sweet, minty scent that filled me. I wanted her to experience the same, so I reached for her, and she pulled away. I think she thought I was playing a practical joke on her. It was a natural reaction, but it also taught us something about trust. The poem that found its way to the vow at the end of the poem which alludes to the Biblical account in which fatherhood is defined as a relationship in which a father would not give a child a snake when he has been asked for a fish.
“Purple” is a simple poem, and at the same time, it is so layered in terms of its meanings, and I am grateful that you had the chance to excavate the deeper levels of its meaning, even while you could enjoy the story at the surface of things.
You would be happy to know that my daughter did recover from her initial hesitation and took a whiff of the fingers. She was delighted.
I hope you will continue to find pleasure and meaning in poems. Poems I read years ago have traveled with me throughout my life. Maybe “Purple” will follow you as you experience new and exciting adventures in life. It is an honor to have been able to share this poem with you.