As part of the 2022 Dear Poet project, students around the country and the world wrote letters to Leslie Contreras Schwartz in response to a video of her reading her poem “A Body's Universe of Big Bangs” aloud. Leslie Contreras Schwartz wrote letters back to seven of these students; their letters and her replies are included below.

Dear “A Body’s Universe of Big Bangs” Readers,

Thank you for spending time with my poem and for sharing your thoughts about what the poem means to you. (I’m especially excited that science enthusiasts were drawn to the poem because of its preoccupation with the laws of nature! Yay, science—and poetry with science!) In your letter, you shared your thoughts on the poem, and how you spent time thinking about the body’s gifts, and secrets, its proclivities that astound us. I love how you connected with the poem’s main concern--how the laws of nature and science are as interwoven in the human body as they are to the universe itself—and how you, yourself, fit within this conversation. How small we are compared to the universe, some of you said. How powerful and complex our bodies and minds are, you said. I love that you are holding opposing ideas in your mind and finding complexity and start your own conversations with yourself.

Many of you noted the poem’s focus on the act of surviving, of being a survivor; I hope you were able to consider what kind of things you latch onto that help you to keep going. I admire the stories you shared, and how you are finding your way through the world following your own inner compass. I hope that through reading this poem you were able to consider the sheer marvel of your own body, that it exists, that it moves in the world carrying your own singular thoughts, at this specific moment in human history. It is a gift, to spend time thinking about what makes us who we are, especially given that many of you indicated that life consists of one running from one thing to the next, another assignment, another task at hand.

My wish for you is that you take more moments of rest, of reflection, to consider what you are doing and why—and I dare to say this involves the poet’s favorite activity—daydreaming, or letting your thoughts wander and change, letting yourself be still and unbusy. You will find many answers to questions this way.

Many of you asked about the circumstance from which the poem was written, and what I was thinking when I composed the poem. As a poet, the act of writing is a discovery, and for this poem, I sought to hold the following conversations I have with myself in a distilled moment, on the page: my preoccupations about living with illness, and my personal journey living with a disability of which I have little control over, and which continues to make me move about the world differently than others. I wrote this poem when I was very sick. In some ways, the poem shows how I struggle to remind myself of the human body’s beauty, how even when my body breaks down and cannot do what I want it to do, I can write and find a new way to think about my body. The body astounds me, its intricacies. I am learning to submit to my body’s ways.

When I wrote the poem, I was also thinking about think how science provides so many examples of nature’s brilliance, of its life-giving power to create the world as we know it, and simultaneously, it’s hard steeliness of cold facts, a force with a powerful hand. Writing about my own life journey, what happens to me, using the lens of science, of logic, helps me to find ways of making meaning. Poetry is a scaffold where I hang my deepest fears, my loves, my worries, and celebrations. From your letters, I understand you are on already on your own journey to find meaning, to find the tools to carve out your own space in the world. I hope you find the tools you need to discover more about who you are, what you capable of doing with your time on the planet, as you are, and I hope this search is full of joy. I hope that you find a reason every day to be caught up with the splendor of seeing life as a daily miracle. Life is miraculous! I do mean that. I hope you know that you are a walking marvel, too, every single one of you, exactly as you are.

Thank you for writing. It’s lovely to hear from young people, and to hear about your engagement with poetry. I’m honored you wrote to me.

I wish you well.




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