As part of the 2022 Dear Poet project, students around the country and the world wrote letters to Lloyd Schwartz in response to a video of him reading his poem “A True Poem” aloud. Lloyd Schwartz wrote letters back to nine of these students; their letters and his replies are included below.
Lloyd Schwartz also wrote a response to all of the participants of this year's Dear Poet project.
Dear Poets, Readers, and Listeners—
Thank you more than I can say for your generous and moving responses to my poem “A True Poem.” Your letters were all so thoughtful and obviously heartfelt. I not only enjoyed reading them, I was also very moved by them, by your warmth and honesty, and thrilled to hear back that you “got” and connected with what I was writing about in my poem.
Writing a poem—writing anything—is a complicated experience. First of all, if you’re going to actually take the time and effort to write down what you’re feeling, what you feel is obviously important to you, important enough to write it down. Which is a lot more work than just having the feeling itself. Partly, you write something because you want to remember it. But you also write because you hope someone else—other people—will see what you’ve written, and understand, “get,” what you’re feeling. And maybe also enjoy what you wrote.
Those of us who write poetry are all trying to put their feelings and experiences and discoveries into poems. And poems—good poems—tell the truth (or many truths), or at least intend to tell the truth. But sometimes the truth hurts. So whoever is writing down these feelings sometimes feels that it would be impossible to let anyone else see what they’ve written. There’s no answer to this dilemma. Which is more important, just putting your honest feelings into words, or letting the world—anyone in the world—see these feelings, see what you’ve written? If you’re a poet, you want to—have to—let the world see what you’ve written. And you want people to admire you for that. But you also have to keep telling the truth—your truth—or what’s the point of writing it down? But if the truth is really painful, or too painful, then what?
As I said, there’s no answer. Each of us—every writer—has to make this choice.
Thank you again for your wonderful and wonderfully personal letters. To me, they were like reading poems, because you were telling me—putting into words and writing your words to me—the truth about your own feelings, including your feelings about my poem and about the challenges of writing. I’m incredibly grateful for your words!
Poet Laureate of Somerville, MA