As part of the 2019 Dear Poet project, students around the country and the world wrote letters to Linda Gregerson in response to a video of her reading her poem “Line Drive Caught by the Grace of God” aloud. Linda Gregerson wrote letters back to two of these students; their letters and her replies are included below, along with several additional responses from students.
Linda Gregerson also wrote a response to all of the participants of this year's Dear Poet project, which is included below:
Dear friends –
Thank you so much for your letters! You ask really great questions: I only wish I had time to answer each one of you in the detail you deserve.
Will you do me a great favor? Please thank your teachers for including a poetry section in your classes. I myself am deeply indebted to all the teachers who took the time to introduce me to poetry and to encourage my efforts to understand the aspects that confused me. However your own interests and professional choices evolve, I hope poetry will find a permanent place in your lives.
With true gratitude —
Linda Gregerson Reads “Line Drive Caught by the Grace of God” for Dear Poet 2019.
Dear Ms. Gregerson,
My name is Michael. I go to school in Houston, Texas, and I am a sophomore taking English II. I really enjoyed reading your poem “Line Drive Caught by the Grace of God” because of some of the interpretations of it. I enjoyed the opening line saying “half of America” has memorized "the infield's peculiar heroics by heart"(1-2) because personifying America really alludes to the popularity of baseball as this nation's favorite pastime. I have spent countless hours bonding with my dad while watching the Astros win and lose over the years. Even at a young age, I knew of every player on the Astros, as well as any aspects of their lives that was made public.
I think of this poem as an illustration of how the love of a game supersedes any single victory or defeat. In the last stanza, when you refer to baseball as being so personal to the fans, you capture the moment in “My neighbor/goes hungry why the Yankees lose" because "his wife's too unhappy to cook”(lines 26-28). However, you quickly push the reader back into an optimistic outlook when you revert to the big picture, stating “supper's a small enough price to pay"(line 29) as baseball makes "the weeks go by so personal/so hand in glove"(lines 31-32). This made me think about the sports teams that lose more often than they win, just like the Chicago Cubs who had not won a World Series for more than 107 seasons yet their fans kept showing up, hoping each year to become champions. Their win a couple of years ago validated their loyalty as fans and reinforces the notion that the love of the sport is stronger than the desire to win.
Another aspect of the poem I admired was your way of capturing the timelessness of baseball. While the players “age/with the game” (lines 9-10) their records, accomplishments, and victories are forever recorded in the annals of the sport. This perfectly illustrates what drives Americans from all walks of life to devote their lives to an all too often short and uncertain career path.
Overall, I believe your poem perfectly captures how America feels about its favorite pastime. With a light touch and simple language, you reflect the simplicity and universality of a sport I grew up on. I remember having to defend my hometown team, the Astros, from critics who renamed the team "lastros" as they couldn't seem to get a win. I felt the humiliation as if it was happening to me and I prayed for the day we would win the World Series. Through our collective loyalty to the team and love of the sport, we continued to watch, year after year, the Astros suffer one humiliation after the next. This was until 2017 when our faith was rewarded with an amazing World Series victory. While the victory was exhilarating, it was our love of the sport that got us through the 'dark years'.
I am also curious to know what was the inspiration behind the writing of this poem? Was it a personal connection to the sport or your understanding of its role in American society that led you to write this poem? I find it difficult to write simply and effectively at the same time. I often end up writing complex sentences that could be expressed in a more straightforward manner. How do you balance the two so well? Finally, were you ever afraid to publish your poems out of fear of rejection? I write songs with my music tutor but have yet to muster the courage to share them with a wider audience. Do you have any advice?
First of all, congratulations on that World Series title in 2017! Only a true fan can understand what it means to watched a beloved team go that far after a long, long dry spell. My grandfather was a die-hard Cubs fan who never owned a television, was very hard of hearing, and never dreamt of spending the money to go into Wrigley Field (we lived 40 miles away in a small Illinois town.) I remember him sitting in front of his 1940s Bakelite tabletop radio with his homemade “hearing aid”: a role of cardboard pressed on one end to his ear and on the other to the speaker. That’s how he listened to the Cubs games. He died long before that great year of 2016 but I like to think he heard the happy roar at the end of Game Seven.
I confess I was never much of a sports fan at all until I met my husband. I just didn’t get it: why don’t people do something productive with their time? I thought. And then I happened to sit down next to my lovely husband-to-be in front of our old black and white TV one afternoon and saw what seemed to me a miracle – the brilliant Yankees third baseman Craig Nettles sailing absolutely horizontally to catch a line drive between second and third. I couldn’t believe what I’d seen. I think of it as my conversion experience. (You can google images for Craig Nettles and see what I mean.)
It was in the wake of that amazing moment that I began to think more seriously about the profound sense of belonging that fandom provides for so many people – even the World Series or World Cups become a kind of local event. The longer I live, the more I become aware of just how vulnerable our bodies are – to aging, to disease, to injury – and therefore how powerful it can be to behold a human body doing something perfectly, if “only” in the name of a game.
All of us are frightened of rejection, Michael, but I warmly encourage you to share your songs. Perhaps you could start with a few trusted friends? Or perhaps your music tutor would like to collaborate on an informal performance for a small invited audience? The world needs more songs. And we all need more sharing.
Please tell your teacher that I’m very grateful to her for including a unit on poetry in your high school classroom. I hope poems will become a lifelong habit for you.
Dear Linda Gregerson,
My name is Will and I am a freshman. Your poem spoke out to me because I am a baseball player. My coach has put me all over the field. I usually don’t understand poems but this is one of the few that I do understand. I could not make varsity this year mostly because I am only a freshman, but also my normal throw is not very accurate.
Do you have any suggestions on how to become more accurate? I am very open to suggestions. I was ejected from the game yesterday because of my throw. I’ll have to change my throw in order to play again.
First of all, let me tell you how flattered I am to be asked for advice about the accuracy of your throw. I’m afraid I’m about the clumsiest baseball player you could imagine – which is partly why I’m in awe of the players who can catch and throw and run and hit and pitch as the game requires. They seem almost superhuman to me. Or human in a way that embodies our most extravagant fantasies of physical prowess. I’m really sorry you got ejected from the game yesterday – I hope your coach understands how hard you’re trying to be better. Do you have anyone you can practice with? Someone older maybe? A neighbor or a family member? That would be my only usable piece of advice.
As for other kinds of accuracy, I’m full of advice about poetry! And about language generally. I was thrilled last winter when some of my graduate students asked me for help on forming better sentences. They are really gifted poets and very serious, like you, about getting better, but somehow their early education has left them uncertain about the finer points of grammar and syntax.
Please tell your teacher that I’m very grateful to her, or him, for including a unit on poetry in your high school classroom. I hope poems will become a lifelong habit for you.
Good luck with that throw ---
Dear Linda Gregerson,
My name is Fatoumata and I’m a freshman in high school. I will like to first tell you that your poem “Line Drive Caught by the Grace of God” was a very interesting poem. In my opinion, this poem has multiple meanings based on the times it’s being read and how the reader reads it. Once I watched the video of you reading the poem, it caught my eye more than any other poem in the Dear Poet Project.
The way the poem attracted me was different because the title was what I was most fond of. In the first stanza you first talk about half of America liking baseball, and I was so confused on how that can relate to “Line Drive Caught by the Grace of God.” What did God have to do with anything? I also realized in the first stanza that you talked about different types of heroic actions between women and men in baseball and that got me thinking, are you talking about God helping them achieve in an event that makes them heroic in people’s eyes. Then later in the poem you talk about how the owner would go to the press and manipulate men to get what they want. Are the owners the oppressors? Can this be applied to other areas in society? Further on in the poem you talk to the reader, you apply the reader to the game. Is the game society, are we the players, and are the owners our oppressors? So many questions to be asked about this poem.
In the poem you use personification to describe the season and a slight of alliteration to explaining someone getting stronger. I very much enjoyed description of the player getting stronger. Furthermore throughout your poem you use repetition to state an event during the Yankees game and stating how so many events and what was occurring that time was all for nothing. You talk about mistakes and what happens when mistakes occur by telling a little story of how a man’s wife wouldn’t make him food when the Yankees lost their game. In the poem you talk about America, talk to the reader, and about baseball in the midst of all of that. I find that alluring when it’s by the grace of God.
Dear Ms. Linda Gregerson,
My name is Brandon and I am I freshman in high school. In English class we are doing a Dear poet project where we analyze poems and email one of the authors. I was really intrigued by your poem “Line Drive Caught by the Grace of God.” I felt that I really connected to it through sports cause that is my favorite thing to do.
What really drew me in is how you talked about the athletes and how they devote everything to the game they play. In the line “while they age with the game” I really was surprised on how you mentioned that basically their whole lives are about sports. Since I play sports it opens up a new perspective to be about how it affects their lives. Also you mentioned how sports can honestly just be for the entertainment of the viewers and nothing else matters. This is showed when you mention that a husband goes hungry when the Yankees lose because the wife is so devoted to them. The athletes are just being used for entertainment. They beat up their bodies and for some people it is worth it. Like you said however the million dollars may not be worth it in the end. The imagery showed in this poem reveals a new perspective about sports and how people could view it.
A few questions I had is, do you think that people are beating up their bodies too much? Also do you think it is worth playing sports for some people?
Dear Ms. Gregerson,
My name is Ali, and I am a sophomore student.
Although my school has a STEM-focused education, it also offers rigorous humanities programs, beneficial for adolescents more liberal arts oriented such as myself. My fascinations with poetry and song lyrics have led me to write to you in regards to the Dear Poet Project of 2019.
Upon hearing your piece "Line Drive Caught by the Grace of God," I was immediately drawn to the wordplay surrounding concepts of baseball. Starting at the ripe young age of five, my parents put me on the local whiffle ball team, and I instantly fell in love with the sport and all of its intricacies. As I got older, I started playing baseball (as one of the small handful girls in the little league) until I was around eight, and eventually moved to softball. I continue to play to this day (second base and shortstop). Because of all this, the lines "And sometimes pure felicity, the length/ of a player suspended above the dirt/ for a wholly deliberate, perfect catch/ for nothing, for New York" stood out to me in particular. I know that feeling, of standing victorious with ball in glove in hand as an underdog, and your ability to put it into words, so accurate and beautifully rhythmic, captured my breath when I read them for the first time. The final stanza did the same thing, with its full-circle conclusion and final line of "so hand in glove," a sentiment that here somehow loses its slight cliche, and instead makes a deeper impact because of how relevant it is to the rest of the poem.
In addition to profound respect, I also have a few questions for you and your poetry. What prompted you to write about baseball in the first place, as well as its cultural significance to America? How have your combined interests of science and the arts shaped your writing style? What advice do you have for young artists still trying to figure out their own style and sense of purpose?
Reading this poem, I suddenly began to realize the importance of an idea that is relatable to most, but unique in how an author can use it to contribute an element of storytelling to a piece. I would like to thank you for bestowing me with this new understanding, a feeling I sincerely relish, just like hitting a solid line drive.
Dear Linda Gregerson,
When I was reading your poem “Line Drive Caught by the Grace of God” you expressed baseball without actually putting the word in your poem. In the beginning, I was a bit confused then as you got to “above the dirt for a wholly deliberate, perfect catch,” I knew you were talking about baseball. I love how you expressed baseball without even having to put it in your poem. The poem is very objective and shows baseball from a unique perspective. I would have never been able to see baseball from this point of view. I wouldn’t be able to develop a poem like this because I would have to involve the word in my poem. But you expressed the topic without clearly stating it.
How do you write poems and express them in different ways? Like how do you get the reader to recognize the topic without even stating it in your poem? Another question I have for you is do you enjoy writing poems? Poems are sometimes complicated to write and some people don’t enjoy writing poems. Also, where do you get your ideas to write a poem? I can’t really think about what to write in poems like I get stuck with no ideas. Is there something you do in order to get your ideas for your poems? I wrote poems when I was little, but now I just can’t write any poems. Does your mind go somewhere else in order to get ideas for a poem or do you just come up with ideas when your mind is cleared?
But, I just love how the poem “Line Drive Caught by the Grace of God” was written. The way you transformed the topic of the poem without including the name of the subject. I really want to know how long poems take you because it takes a while for me to come up with ideas for my poem. Do you write any other poems or is this the only one you have written? If you have other poems, how do you get your ideas for your poems? The conclusion is that I loved your poem and how it was expressed. It would be an honor if you could write back to me.
Dear Linda Gregerson,
The first thing that popped out to me about your poem was the fact that you added the phrase “Grace of God.” I’m a very faithful Christian myself so I wanted to read it the moment I saw it. I was very unsure of what you meant by a “Line Drive” too which urged me to read it more. The poem wasn’t exactly the way I expected it to come out using the “Grace of God” in the title, but it did come out better than the way I was thinking of. At first I was very confused when reading it. I was thinking to myself how this had to do anything with God. As I started reading it more, I noticed how the poem said “perfect catch for nothing, for New York.” As I saw that line I read the poem backwards and I realized it’s basically about a baseball game. I could be wrong, but if I had to guess the meaning of this poem it’d be that the community around us can at times get worked up over the littlest things. Things like a baseball game, things they believe are greater than God, but “a man like you or me” knows something greater in this world. We know someone greater in this world. It was a very lovely poem to read with such expression in the words. My question is what inspired you to make this poem? Do or did you actually have neighbors who won’t cook because of a baseball game? What got you into poetry? Because, you’re an amazing poet. I like writing poems myself. I find it a way to express myself from words of my understanding. Is this what you feel as well? Did I get the meaning right? Write back if you can, I’d love to hear your response!
Dear Linda Gregerson,
My name is Jazlyn and I am a senior in Honolulu, Hawaii. In English class, we learned that it is National Poetry Month, so we started a poetry unit. To be honest, poetry isn’t my favorite thing to study. However, I love that there can be many different interpretations of the same poem. Also, poems can have many messages embedded in them. In honor of National Poetry Month, my teacher decided to give us an assignment to read and analyze poems. Then, we were to pick a poem that stood out to us and write a letter to the author.
In class, we read a collection of poems from the Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets. The poem that stood out to me was yours. It was titled, “Line Drive Caught by the Grace of God.” I liked that in this poem you used baseball as a metaphor because as a kid I always loved playing and watching sports. The baseball reference in the fourth stanza that says, “of a player suspended above the dirt/for a wholly deliberate, perfect catch” really caught my attention. I could just imagine this play happening in my head as I read the line. Another aspect that your poem had that stood out to me was targeting how society changes people. Then, I looked up other poems that you wrote. I really liked the poem called, “The Three-Legged Dog at the Heart of Our Home,” because there was a lot of imagery within the poem and I love dogs. The line that really caught my attention was, “She wore cotton dresses, usually blue, and glasses/with thin gold frames and plastic cushions for the nose./ The plastic was slightly pink.” The descriptive language gave depth to the writing because I could put myself into the scenes. Being able to picture what’s happening makes the poem connect more to me and feel as if I am there.
I went back to your poem “Line Drive Caught by the Grace of God” because out of both poems, this one spoke to me more. I listened to you reciting the poem and this really helped me to understand the tone and attitude of the poem. As you read it, the tone in your voice sounded like disappointment and disgust because people care so much about money and appearances. The way I interpreted your poem was that society changes people and can bring out greed. People put on appearances for the outside world, but the constant faking becomes reality. Pretty soon these people are no longer putting on an act because this is who they have become. This really made a personal connection with me because as a teenager, I feel the pressure of fitting in. The worry about what people think of me and making sure that the way I dress is how everyone dresses. They’re always people judging me in person or on social media. I feel like I have to keep up with the platform of social media and real life. Your poem inspired me a lot and I decided to write a poem myself. In this poem I talk about wearing a mask and not being true to myself because of the standards of society. It says how behind closed doors we aren’t afraid to be ourselves, but in public we act different to try to fit in. The idea behind this poem was to take my interpretation of your poem, “Line Drive Caught by the Grace of God,” and write what I think the pressure of society does to people.
I had some questions I wanted to ask you about writing. One question I have is, how do you decide what you want to write about? There’s an endless number of topics to choose from, so how do you know if you picked the right one? Also, do you try to have a message in the poem that can relate to many or just a select group of people? Thank you for writing poems because they inspire people like me. Even though poetry isn’t my favorite thing to study, this experience of reading and writing poems has changed my perspective of the world and writing. Thank you for taking the time to read my letter as well because it means a lot to me to get to know how writers come up with topics.
Dear Linda Gregerson,
Hi my name is Justin. I am 12 years old and am from the South Bronx. I love the Boston Red Sox and also baseball.
I think your poem is really nice because of the fact that I love baseball. I think that your poem is nice because you explain the players and fans thoughts about the sport and the Yankees. I also like how you talk about the husband and wife that are sad because the Yankees lost. Also I like how you talk about the players that make amazing plays and how you explain what he made that play for. For the money, for the fans, and for New York. Also I like how you talk about brawls and injuries that can happen while playing baseball like a broken forearm and offseason brawls.
I have a couple of questions about this poem. Do you like baseball? Do you like the Yankees? Have you been to a baseball game? Are you related to a baseball player? Have you ever stopped cooking because the Yankees or your favorite team have lost?
Thank you for your time, and I hope you have a good day.
Dear Linda Gregerson,
My name is Serafino and I am a ninth grader in Phoenix, Arizona. I recently read your poem “Line Drive Caught by the Grace of God” and I must say that I am a huge fan of the poem. I am a fan of the poem because I myself am a huge baseball fan and I like how you wrote the poem. The way you described someone catching a line drive pitch really stuck out to me because it makes it seem like you were the one that was suspended in air, the one making the catch. Another part of the poem that stood out to me was the beginning, when you described baseball heroics captivating us while also describing some of the players. The line “…the infield’s peculiar heroics by heart,” sticks out because as I mentioned, it shows the eyes of America being captivated by baseball players’ heroics during big games. Then, at the end of the poem, you described how a Yankees fan felt after they lost a game. That was describing how diehard fans feel after a team loses. I myself can get depressed for days when my Chicago Cubs lose, so that’s how I know what exactly you are talking about there. I really like this poem you wrote, and in my spare time I will have to read some more of your poems. I hope you write me back and I will have to look into reading more of your poems soon. This one was pretty awesome and it was one of the best poems I have ever read.