As part of the 2020 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 “With Emma at the Ladies-Only Swimming Pond on Hampstead Heath” aloud. Linda Gregerson wrote letters back to four 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.
Dear friends of poetry—
Thank you so much for your wonderful letters; I love hearing from you—high school students, grade school students, students from rural school districts, students from big cities all across the country. We poets tend to write in isolation and, even when our poems are published, we may have very little sense of their impact on readers. So it is very heartening indeed to hear about your reactions. I'm also amazed at the freshness and insight with which you are able to relate your own lives to the materials you encounter in a video and on the "page" of a computer screen. The Dear Poets Project is one of my very favorite activities of the year.
A number of you have asked whether "With Emma at the Ladies-Only Swimming Pond on Hampstead Heath" is based on real events, and you are right to wonder. Your teachers have no doubt taught you that material in a poem may be fictional. The great Emily Dickinson instructed herself and every poet to "tell the truth, but tell it slant." In this particular instance, however, I am happy to report that the ladies-only swimming pond on Hampstead Heath is a real place; I really did find it by accident one summer afternoon when I was on a ramble with my daughter; Emma is a real person. It has been many years since our adventure on the Heath, but Emma continues to teach me, by word and by example, how to live my life more joyously.
I hope you will continue to find a place for poetry in your lives.
Sending you all best wishes for the new school year—