As part of the 2022 Dear Poet project, students around the country and the world wrote letters to Marcus Amaker in response to a video of him reading his poem “Give Yourself Some Flowers” aloud. Marcus Amaker wrote letters back to nine of these students; their letters and his replies are included below.
Marcus Amaker also wrote a response to all of the participants of this year's Dear Poet project.
Dear readers ~
Being a poet can often seem like a solitary experience. It can be a challenge to know that you are connecting with others. That’s why I am so emotionally charged after reading your responses to my poem “Give Yourself Some Flowers.”
I’m honored that many of you found healing in the words. I’m also encouraged by your honesty and was happy to engage in meaningful correspondence with many of you.
This poem grew from a need to remind myself that I am a whole and worthy person. Life—with its infinite distractions—can be a busy, weird, and awkward place. I’ve defaulted to anxiety and depression in response to many things. Anxiety is human. Depression is human. But I needed to tell myself “You are whole. You are worthy.”
That’s when I started the poem. My therapist often asks “What have you done for self-care today?”
“Give Yourself Some Flowers.” was my answer to that.
We all have exactly everything that we need. Even when we feel sad and are overwhelmed with shadow emotions.
I’m so glad to be on this life journey with all of you. Wishing you luck and love in all that you do.
Marcus Amaker reads "Give Yourself Some Flowers" for Dear Poet 2022
Dear Marcus Amaker,
My name is Abby, I go to Leading Edge. I am 11 years old and my favorite color is blue. I chose your poem “Give Yourself Some Flowers” because it's like a checklist to keep track of yourself. Your poem inspired me to keep track of all the positive things and let the negative things float away.
I would like to ask you a couple of questions about your poem. What inspiration gave you an idea to write this poem? When did you decide you wanted to become a poet? One of my favorite parts of your poem is the ending when it says “you were made perfectly for this moment in time.” What's your favorite part? My favorite poet is William Shakespeare, but he is also considered an English playwright. What's your favorite poet? When I think of writing I often think of essays or book reports but some people like you probably think of poems. What is your favorite poem? And do you find writing fun?
When I ever have to write a poem for school I often go off of things that go together like for example “Nature just is, and yet it always gives.” How do you often start poems? What's one of your favorite quotes from a poem? Two of my favorite quotes are "Better a pearl with a flaw than a pebble without.” “Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.” And what style and technique do you like to use or prefer? What did you think when you read your poem? I enjoy writing poems when I'm outside or inside but I like working outside more. What do you prefer outside or inside?
Thank you so much for connecting with my poem. I deeply appreciate your questions and your thoughtfulness.
“Give Yourself Some Flowers” means a lot to me, and it’s quickly become one of my favorite poems that I’ve written? Why? Because it came from a place of possibility and peace. I wanted to get on paper what I feel when I meditate and when I am in touch with my higher self.
Here’s some answers to some of your questions:
What inspiration gave you an idea to write this poem?
I’ve been thinking a lot about joy. The world seems to be a really traumatic place, and I think it’s healthy to focus on the light that is balancing out all of the darkness. I often write poems as reminders to myself of what’s really important. When I sat down to write this piece, it was important to me to remember that “everything is ok.” Despite trauma, depression, and anxiety, I am still a worthy and whole person.
When did you decide you wanted to become a poet?
I knew I wanted to become a poet when I witnessed how words can connect people. Poetry is an art form of possibility. It allows us to take a breath and tap into our similarities. One memory stands out as the reason I keep writing: In 2007, I performed a poem about a friend who passed away. A person in the audience came to me with tears in their eyes, because they recently lost a friend, as well. I printed the poem for them, and they were very thankful. It was further evidence that what I’m doing is … good.
One of my favorite parts of your poem is the ending when it says “you were made perfectly for this moment in time”. What's your favorite part?
Thank you! My favorite part is the line “rest like the sun does / schedule some time to stay out of sight / when too many people praise warm energy.” That line has become my motto. I am always encouraging people to rest and to resist the term “busy.”
Who is your favorite poet?
Andrea Gibson is the poet who I connect with on a deep, deep level. I encourage you to look them up!
What is your favorite poem? And do you find writing fun?
My favorite poem is actually a song. The lyrics to Ani DiFranco’s “Grey” are some of the best lines I’ve ever read. Example: “every time I blink / I have a tiny dream.” MIND BLOWING!
Writing is fun when inspiration hits. There are moments in my life when I can’t stop writing because ideas come to me quickly. I’m in the middle of one of those periods now!
When I ever have to write a poem for school I often go off of things that go together like for example “Nature just is, and yet it always gives.” How do you often start poems?
I love that line, by the way. It’s beautiful in its simplicity. I start poems often—probably once a day, to be honest. They start as little ideas and then I expand on them later.
I think I answered your other questions above. Thank you again for the love!
Dear Mr. Amaker,
My name is Carolina, I am 17 years old and I’m a senior in high school. I have unfortunately had to face several hardships early in my life, and pushed myself to age more rapidly than the majority of my peers. For my personal protection, I had to open my eyes to the dangers of the world. When one’s mind is on constant alert and prevention focus, it is almost habitual to neglect self care. That is my main focus right now. In a few months, I am going to move across the country for college and will have much more independence. Independence—as I’m sure you know, holds both positive and negative repercussions. I will have more freedom, which, as someone who grew up very fast, I have been craving since I was 13 years old; however it is going to be easier to slip through the cracks when I am more alone. But I don’t want to slip through the cracks. Because I have before, and I wouldn’t consider it a necessarily favorable portion of my life (sarcastic tone). I want to be better. Really bad. One day I am going to become the most glorious Carolina I can possibly be. It is up to me after all.
I idolize your poem. You reminded me that I deserve the same respect and love I hand out to those present in my life. I am annoyingly good at forgetting to love myself. Your poem interrupted the self evoked intermission of taking care of myself. Your words clung to me. Since I read your poem, “Give Yourself Some Flowers,” it has become more challenging to ignore myself. I love poetry, it has changed the course of my life more than I can explain to anyone. There are certain poems that I can’t forget. Your poem is one of them. The way you write is just beautiful and entrapping. There is life behind your words, in my opinion that is the greatest trait and achievement of poetry. Life behind beautiful words, something I strive for and something that you have undoubtedly mastered. To love myself I have to face myself. I cannot love someone I don’t know. There have been scarce moments where I am able to really acknowledge every part of myself, and still love myself. That is step one, the next step is maintenance and integration.
I will love all of me one day. I will love the way my gums show when I smile. I will love my weight, even if the scale barks a number higher than yesterday. I will love my inner child that I conceal with artificial apathy. I will love the hump on my nose and my dark body hair that I consider taxes for being Middle Eastern. I will love my beautiful and charming Arab traits that I tried to drown out with my 50% of Caucasian genetics because as a child, raised in the south, I was taught that being normal was being white. I will love my passion and interests. I will love my body, that has been sexualized by others since I was in middle school. I will love everything that forbids me from being my perception of “normal,” that I devoted my young self to becoming (doesn’t work, luckily). I will love the tears I feel ashamed to shed. I will love how smart I am, because I am smart and I don’t give myself nearly enough credit for that. I will love the enormous scar that I didn’t ask for and have been trying everything to get rid of. I will love the scars I gave myself, as punishment for things that weren’t my fault because I was just a kid in panic. I will love how much I care, and will understand that is not a weakness but instead a strength. I will love that my brain is wired abnormally, that right now sadness feels more natural than happiness. I will love everything about me that I don’t love yet. I will forgive myself. I will forgive the traumatized and sensitive perspective through which I view most men. I will forgive myself because it wasn’t my fault and I didn’t do anything to deserve what happened to me. I will forgive myself for how mean I’ve been to myself for the past 5 years. I am beginning to understand that my pain doesn’t have to be permanent. I foretell poetry playing a significant role in my journey of loving and forgiving myself.
I cannot change yesterday. But I can change today, and tomorrow, and the rest of my days. I’m not always emotional but for some reason your poem pulled something out of me, and for some reason I’m crying right now, which I’m allowed to do.
I reread “Give Yourself Some Flowers” a lot, and I seem to feel more and more each time I read it. Even writing this letter has been pretty therapeutic for me. Thank you for your poem. Thank you for everything you have written and shared throughout your life. I looked into more of your work and officially consider you one of my favorite poets. Of my favorites, you are the only one living, so it is really cool I’m able to write to you, even if it doesn’t reach you. You have such a gift and I hope you keep writing and spreading your wisdom. You’re just cool honestly. I needed your poem. It has brought the constant oppression that I have used to drown my adolescent self to a halt, or at least a step in the right direction. I think I wrote too much, I just hope you know that you have sparked something, in one random 17 year old girl, who is trying her best not to give up on herself. I’ll get the hang of self love soon. You’re an amazing poet and are actively inspiring me towards becoming the poet and overall person that I wish to be. I truly admire you and I have perceived your genius from afar. I have a newborn aspiration to attend your workshops.
I almost forgot! I bought myself tulips today :)
Honestly, truthfully: Reading your letter was soothing. It was a balm. I needed to hear the things that you said because there are so many parts of me that still need to heal.
So, here’s a thing you might need to hear to heal: You are a worthy person. You are exactly what the world needs. You are okay, even if you don’t feel like “glorious Carolina” all of the time. Even when you find it hard to love yourself. You are love. And you are loved.
Therapy has helped me realize these things because it’s easy to default from a place of lack. To think from a negative mind. We all need to hear how lovely we are because it’s easy not to feel it. It’s easy not to know it.
I hope you hear what I’m saying because knowing my worth has changed my life. It’s helped me to not go down a shame spiral—shame is a never-ending negative loop that isn’t productive.
And that’s where the inspiration for this poem came from. Knowing that—despite all of the little monsters that pop up in my head—I’m a beautiful, loving, and whole person. I hope you feel the same.
Your letter means so much to me. Thank you.
And by the way, the first part of the third paragraph in your letter is a poem! (“I will love all of me one day. I will love the way my gums show when I smile. I will love my weight, even if the scale barks a number higher than yesterday. I will love my inner child that I conceal with artificial apathy. I will love the hump on my nose and my dark body hair that I consider taxes for being Middle Eastern. I will love my beautiful and charming Arab traits … ”)
Peace to you. And thanks for buying tulips! Do it again.
Dear Marcus Amaker,
My name is Ayana and I am an 8th grader attending Washington Middle School. I’d first just like to say that I love your poem, “Give Yourself Some Flowers.” It reminds me of a lullaby for some reason, but one that makes you think before you drift into sleep. When I read it, it illustrates itself. I can imagine the meaning of the words, clear pictures in my mind.
I adore the entire stanza, “Remember to return to water when your spirit and its frame are in drought.” Insisting not only that we began in and return to the water, but also that the reader may be forgetful like myself and is receiving a gentle reminder. A hushed whisper to rest now, but don’t forget.
Your poem gives a sense of wonder to readers and makes us question deeper meaning in mundane everyday things like breathing. With the fluidity and striking grace of a leaf making its way downstream. Curious, yet elegant as it flows and spins, with and against the current and wind. I love your reference to space, mentioning planets, stars, and the general idea of emptiness, further describing the piece with encouragement and great care
for the reader. I consider that I may have interpreted it incorrectly and would happily learn of your true intent.
I commemorate both you and your exquisite writing. I consider myself an athlete but reading your poems and the poems of other authors made me unsure and considering other professions. Like you, I have begun exploring the vast sea of poetry. I am excited at the possibility of finding or learning something worth sharing with the world, and maybe inspiring readers like you have. Thank you.
Thank you so much for your thorough and thoughtful words. I’m so honored that my poem connected with you. Truly.
Your description of it as a lullaby is so enlightening and empowering for me! I wrote it as a way for people to remind themselves to slow down. And to pay attention to the miracles that are happening with every breath. It’s easy to forget just how wonderful it is to be alive. Really. To be alive is such a glorious achievement. We should be celebrating, right?
But yes, depression & anxiety are common. I face them often. And I wrote this poem as a letter to myself to focus on what is good. (Though it’s also important to not ignore your shadow side. It’s just powerful to live in a place of abundance.)
Thank you again for the letter, and for sharing your thoughts. I’m glad that you are exploring poetry! I have a feeling you’ll be writing some powerful things, too.
Dear Marcus Amaker,
I am Aliyah from East Middle School in Michigan. I am 12 years old and am in the 7th grade. I chose to write about your poem “Give Yourself Some Flowers” because it was extremely relatable and specific.
It was also extremely eye-opening. I never thought of my body as a checklist, more of just a thing that I am contained in. In the lines, “Keep in mind / all of these things / when depression / tells you / nothing is working” (47-51), it helped me to see hope. I have had a very hard struggle with depression the past few years, and I feel like reading this poem was a sign of hope, the light in the darkness. I also realized that the soul isn’t like the body, it isn’t made to be broken. I think this poem helps me realize that the body is just a canvas for all that we are going to do as amazing, tail-blazing, stars. But without the canvas, things start to go downhill. You say, “Schedule some time to stay out of sight / when too many people / praise warm energy” (43-46). I always thought I was weird for being “peopled” out eventually. This helps me to realize that I am not the only shy person in the world.
There was one time when I was lying in my bed at night, alone and in the darkness. I thought to myself, this is what I must be like on the inside, broken, by myself, and in the pitch-black darkness. Then my mom came in and gave me a big hug and said I was not alone, and in that tiny, split-second of a moment, there was a shining light on the inside. Eventually, when enough of those shining lights build up, it creates a lantern. And the amazing thing about the lantern on the inside is that it might flicker at times, but it never goes out.
That is why I love your poem. It helps me to realize that there is light even in the darkest of times. I love your poem so much. We have to take care of ourselves and your poem helped not only me, but people around me to realize that. The last few lines were the most impactful. Even when it seems like somebody else will answer the question or that somebody else will help out your friend, now is your time.
Thank you so much,
I’m so honored to have your letter and to read your responses to it. I kept re-reading your part about the light inside. That’s so true! I once wrote a line:
“close my eyes to welcome the dark / then squint to adjust to the light inside.”
I kept thinking of those lines, and I’m impressed that you are already aware of the inner light. I didn’t realize this until I was in my 20s!
“Give Yourself Some Flowers” was a letter to myself. A reminder that we are all in a constant state of balancing. Balancing light and dark—and both of those things make us whole.
I am a BIG (obsessive?) Star Wars fan. The idea of the Force is also at the heart of the second part of the poem—realizing that our bodies are temporary, but our souls are permanent.
I appreciate you sharing with me the story about your mom and how she helped you look at your light. That was super impactful, and could easily be turned into a poem! I look forward to reading it if you take that route.
Thank you again …
Dear Mr. Amaker,
Your poem, “Give Yourself Some Flowers” gave me a sense of comfort that I didn’t know a written work could give. In the past, I have been able to find constructive messages in other platforms, but never opened up enough to give poems a chance to create an impact on me.
When I was younger I never believed that depression was a real issue. I wondered why people weren’t able to feel the same happiness or contentment that I found in everyday life. Your poem helped me realize how truly fortunate I was to have the mindset I had throughout my childhood. This mindset was affected when my life-long friend passed away at seventeen years old. The positivity I woke up with everyday quickly turned into pessimism and numbness. I tried so hard to continue living like I did before my friend passed, ignoring the event and forcing on the same smile that used to form naturally. I rarely allowed myself to “Float in the black” (36) and if I did, it was never for a long enough period to dissect what was happening. I began to drift away from my feelings, developing a disconnect between myself and my mind. It has now been a year since the event and I am working on ways to regain that mental connection. Have you been through any tough times that made it hard for you to abide by the advice you offer in your own poem? What inspired you to write about the topic of depression along with mental and physical well being?
While reading your poem, the first thing I appreciated was the format. The list-like style added to the meaning I interpreted of allowing yourself to take life slowly, step by step. The whole poem felt smooth to me and the simplistic diction and spaces between stanzas both added to the feeling of serenity. I felt at peace while reading it and was also encouraged to better myself in simple ways. I thought deeply about the line, “Train your nerves to keep a balanced pace,” (16-17) trying to think of methods to calm down my nerves. What do you do to help yourself stay positive or maintain the feeling of balance in harder times?
My favorite line in the whole poem is, “the soul is like the body: made to be broken, open to deterioration and doubt” (66-69). These words deeply resonated with me and guided me to feel more comfortable about my own mental mishaps. At the time, I was very unsure if there were people out there that were going through the same hardships as me. I wasn’t certain if the feelings I felt regarding the experience were similar to others at my school or in my friend group. I understand now that the feeling of pain in the absence of something or someone means that it had a true impact on you. How do you help gain encouragement to put yourself out there? Do you believe that hardships open up gateways and can be viewed as learning experiences?
I am extremely grateful that I was able to read your poem. It gave me a new perspective about my own mental health struggles and helped ease my mind. It’s nice to know that artists like you are creating works to help others with their struggles. Thank you.
All the best,
I’m so thankful for your letter and your thoughtfulness about my poem. It’s amazing to me to see how people interpret a piece of art. I think it can show a depth to the work that the artist may or may not have intended. And it’s all good.
Your reactions to my poems are so wonderful and honest. Depression affects me often, and I wrote this poem as a reminder to myself that I am a whole person—despite what anxiety & my brain can tell me. No matter what happens, we are whole and worthy people. I needed to remind myself of this.
And kudos to you for recognizing that the style of the poem is also vital to the understanding of the words. I spaced things out and made it a list to make it a meditation. So glad that you saw that!
To answer your questions:
Have you been through any tough times that made it hard for you to abide by the advice you offer in your own poem? What do you do to help yourself stay positive or maintain the feeling of balance in harder times?
Yes. 100%. I, too, have had to deal with the loss of a friend. And it’s so hard to comprehend the fact that our experience with life is temporary. When anxiety comes, I find it hard to live in a space of peace. But I find that writing is a healthy way for me to deal with whatever is going on.
How do you help gain encouragement to put yourself out there? Do you believe that hardships open up gateways and can be viewed as learning experiences?
Putting my work out there can be a vulnerable choice, but it almost always is a good one. One thing that I do to help with being a “public poet” is to keep the poems to myself for a long time before I share them with others. It helps me to strengthen the love of my work and my voice. It also gives me confidence when I do share it because I already know that it’s a worthy piece of art. I don’t rely on reactions or likes for validation. (Most of the time. haha)
Yes, I believe that hardships open up gateways for people and can be a deep learning experience. In my opinion, hardships open you up to raw emotion. Writing from that place can be enlightening and freeing.
I’m so thankful for your letter. Thanks again, friend.
Dear Marcus Amaker,
My name is Eric. I am a junior at Millennium High School in NYC. While I was listening to your poem “Give Yourself Some Flowers,” I felt an irresistible connection to the poet behind those beautifully eloquent words; that is why I write to you. Ever since the pandemic hit, it has been a distressing time. I had not seen or heard word from my grandparents on the other side of the world. Feeling disheartened, I had not been taking the best care of my health lately. Recently, I was diagnosed with gastroenteritis. No—I have not checked off all the boxes God had given my body. Listening to your poem reminded me that I needed to prioritize my health more.
I particularly appreciate these lines: “Keep in mind/ all of these things/ when it tells you/ that the soul is like the body:/ Made to be broken,/ open to deterioration/ and doubt.” These lines speak to me emotionally, intuitively, and spiritually. They are powerful because of the phrase made to be broken. The beauty of the human spirit lies not in its physicality but in its ability to heal and rejoice in good health. It is only by traversing through “deterioration and doubt” that the human soul learns to be “like a well-rounded planet built for all seasons.” At times, we certainly cannot foresee the body becoming sick or the soul being in disorder, but every time it does, the body recovers and gets stronger.
Your poem gives me much hope for my health. Perhaps I need to disconnect myself from the rapid succession of events in daily life and take a break to let my body and soul heal under God’s guidance. Perhaps my constant indignation at the world has set my soul and my mind too ablaze; maybe that is why I need more water. As God’s checklist says, “Remember/ to return to water/ when your spirit/ and its frame/ are in drought.” In seventy-eight lines, you have given me the best flowers in my life. I will present these seventy-eight flowers to my grandfather on the other side of the Earth to remind him that he does not have to take five pills to control his high blood pressure every day. I will present these seventy-eight flowers to my grandmother on the other side of the Earth to remind her that she need not “put too much pressure on her movement” because of her chronic back pain. I will present these seventy-eight flowers to my mother, who must “schedule some time to stay out of sight” because of her chronic sleep deprivation. I must tell them to keep in mind all the things on God’s checklist because they were made perfectly for that “moment in time.” Your poem reminds me that even though we are taught to dream big and find life’s purpose, in the end we cannot attain our goals without our health being the foundation to support our ambitions.
Notwithstanding the fact that my family and I understand the significance of maintaining our health, sometimes other responsibilities make us set aside the most valuable aspect of our humanity. How do you draw a line between maintaining your career and your health? How do you keep in mind God's checklist? I appreciated this short poem about taking care of one’s health. It was uplifting and I hope you can also tell me more about how you became inspired to write it.
Thank you for these flowers and I wish you optimal health,
I’m so honored to hear the stories of what you and your family are going through. It’s not easy sharing things like that, so I appreciate your openness. Your letter read like a poem! Seriously. Beautiful words.
I’m glad you connected with the parts of the poem that talk about taking care of yourself. One of the questions my therapist asks me is: “What will you do today for self-care?” I’ve started asking my friends the same thing, and it’s surprising (maybe not?) how many people don’t prioritize rest.
Rest has been the single best choice that I can make for myself in this busy world.
To answer your questions:
How do you draw a line between maintaining your career and your health?
Daily naps. A lot of Star Wars. Bike riding. Listening to music. More naps. Those are the things that provide instant calm and joy in my life. I encourage you to find your own personal checklist and put energy toward them! Put them in your daily calendar. It’s beneficial, I think.
How do you keep in mind God's checklist?
I’m reminded of our power and truth every time I interact with friends and nurture the healthy connections I have with others. It also helps me to take care of my body and my brain. Those things help me stay grounded and help me to remember that I am a whole and worthy person.
Thank you again for the letter. Sending love to your grandmother. And love to you.
Dear Marcus Amaker,
My name is Brielle, I’m a freshman at Atlantic County Institute of Technology High School in New Jersey. When I first read your poem, “Give Yourself Some Flowers,” I felt a strong connection immediately and an overwhelming feeling of comfort. I believe that I felt that way because your poem made me feel not so much alone anymore. Two years ago, I was diagnosed with anxiety and PTSD and I started showing symptoms of depression this year. Your words mean a lot to me and you’re very inspirational. You seem like such a good person, I love your energy and your passion. I can almost feel your emotions while you read through your poem. I’m going to be honest, I teared up a bit when listening to you read it, I really needed to hear that.
“Keep in mind all of these things when depression tells you nothing is working.” Sorry if I’m oversharing, but lately I’ve been feeling like nothing is in my control, like someone else is in the driver's seat, steering through the twisty roads of my life. They aren’t a good driver though. Anyways, things like these (your poem) that I come across in my life make me forget about those bad feelings. I really appreciate you and your beautiful poem.
In my eyes, I think you are the most brilliant person ever. I absolutely love how in the first half of your poem you were describing muscles in your body that function without conscious control, but at the same time, you were giving the reader beautiful advice in life. “Make sure the path of your blood slows down for checkpoints and avoids bumps in the road.” Even though I feel like someone else is steering my life, I have to realize that I can take over at some points and focus on the things that I can control. Thank you for introducing that thought to me. Do/did you ever feel/felt the same as me, like you have no control? If so, do you have any advice on how to conquer that feeling?
You don’t have to answer this question if you’re not up to it, but I would like to know… Who inspired you the most in your life? Since you inspired me, I’m just curious. Were the lessons they taught you incorporated into your poem/poems? Apart from my curiosity, I just wanted you to know that you really helped me, and I’m positive that you helped many other people in your life as well. You should be very proud of that. Your loved ones are there to help and support you in times of your darkness and in times of your brightest moments. Count me in!
Wow, it’s so nice to be connected with you through this poem. I sincerely appreciate your honesty and your openness about depression, anxiety and PTSD.
Truthfully, I experience a lot of the same things. We are in this together! I started going to therapy to reprocess how I view the world around me. And I’ve been reminded of a simple truth:
We are wonderful and worthy humans. Despite everything that’s going on in the world. Despite what our negative thoughts tell us. We are okay.
And that’s one of the reasons I wrote this poem. As a reminder to myself. It’s almost like a letter that I mailed to myself. I needed the words just as much as anyone else.
Your analogy about the driver’s seat reminded me of something I heard recently: We are all driving a bus that is carrying older versions of ourselves. Sometimes those older versions will jump up and grab the wheel—spinning everyone in chaos. When that happens, it’s healthy to remind ourselves that we are still okay. Still in control. We just need to realize that we have a choice to not crash.
To answer your question:
Who inspired you the most in your life?
Ani DiFranco. She’s a fantastic folk singer, and her album “Not A Pretty Girl” opened my eyes to the possibility of words. She has so many wonderful records—“To The Teeth,” “Reveling / Reckoning,” “Which Side Are You On?” and “Little Plastic Castle” are just a few. Anyway, her words are unreal. Check out the song “Grey” for a perfect slice of songwriting.
I can’t thank you enough for how much you’ve added light to my energy after reading your letter. I might put “the most brilliant person ever” as a quote in my next book. Seriously. =)
Dear Mr. Amaker,
This poem gave me a new sense of peace that I haven’t had in a long time. My name is Avana, and I am a freshman from Milwaukee, WI, and I am a poet like you, or at least an aspiring one. Most of my poems are angry, they kind of silently shout at the world from the page, but yours is different. It hasn’t occurred to me lately that despite whatever I have going on in my life, my mental health is important, I need to give myself some flowers. I appreciate how you personified the Earth, it helped me fully understand the moral of the poem. The peace that I gained after reading your poem, and every time thereafter, was something that was laced in every stanza, and I greatly admire that.
What caught my eye was the first line, “And in the beginning,/ God gave your body/ a checklist,” I’m a PK (Pastor’s Kid), so I know a Bible reference when I see one, but what struck me was the checklist; growing up in a Christian household, mental health wasn’t emphasized, so the correlation between the Bible and mental health struck me. An opening line that is both calm and direct is something I appreciate about poetry in general. The steady flow of the suggestions makes me take in what you’re trying to say. Also the line, “Push forward without putting too much pressure on movement. Remember to return to water when your spirit and its frame are in drought,” really speaks to me as a young Black girl in America, with all the problems this country has, this line reminds me that it’s not my job to mend everything that has gone wrong, the best thing I can do is focus on becoming the best person I can be.
How do you think mental health plays a role in our world today? Through the thorough yet gentle way you remind us to take care of ourselves, I can somewhat tell that you think it is a universal truth to try to be okay with who you are. I hate how mental health and taking care of yourself are dismissed in our culture. When in actuality, people who have reached their fullest mental potential all working together could reverse some of the world’s biggest problems.
Taking deep breaths, taking some time alone, and remembering it’s okay to feel are things I have been telling myself for days now. However, my poetry doesn’t often reflect meaningful messages like that. For instance, your closing line, “Even when it seems like the clock isn’t ticking, you were made perfectly for this moment in time,” feels like a huge hug that tells me that everything will be okay. Thank you for that.
As an aspiring writer myself, I was wondering, where do you draw your inspiration from? It seems that everyone is coming up with everything now and there’s nothing left for me to create. But I know there’s something out there for me to write about, to write about, I just need to find a good place to start.
“Give Yourself Some Flowers” is a beautiful poem. You've made me realize that poetry is not just a way to express your emotions, but to give others some perspective that may help them along their way. You’ve reminded me that I am who I am, and it is good.
It’s lovely to meet another poet! Thanks so much for the love and for connecting with my poem.
I also feel a connection to you because we are both Black people in America, which can be a challenging thing. One of the inspirations for the “Give Yourself Some Flowers” poem is a reaction to the fact that many (white) organizations have asked me to write traumatic poems about slavery and Black trauma. I needed to remind myself that we are more than our past. We are whole and joyful people.
The poem stemmed from that, as well as my desire to remind people to slow down. Prioritizing mental health is crucial, and I’ve made it a point to take care of myself on a daily basis. Even when I’m in the middle of an anxious spell or I’m drowning in anxiety, I try to remind myself that I am okay. I am whole. Anxiety is a dance, and the music will eventually fade.
Try not to judge your poetry too much. Many of my early poems were angry, too. I commend you for expressing your anger through poetry. Some people express their anger by hurting others. You are doing good work.
To answer your questions:
How do you think mental health plays a role in our world today?
I think it’s in fashion to talk about “self-care” but I don’t think many people practice it. If we did, then we wouldn’t be on our phones so much. We wouldn’t be buying so many things (because we’d be content with what we have. Imagine that!) I want more for our society.
As an aspiring writer myself, I was wondering, where do you draw your inspiration from?
I am inspired by connection. By the fact that words have power. I can write something in solitude that touches someone from across the world. Art is a superpower. It’s nice to meet another superhero. =) I’d love to read your work at some point!
Thank you again for your kind words. I, too, grew up in a Christian household so those lessons sneak their way into my poems from time to time. There’s a lot to unpack in that world, and I wish you love and peace with it all.
Dear Marcus Amaker,
In my English class, we were reading the Dear Poet selections from this year and came across your poem, “Give Yourself Some Flowers.” I have never been into poetry, but I felt a deep connection to something that affects my life greatly when I read this poem. My brain wandered back to the time when I was in 6th grade and I woke up to some horrific news, my grandfather had a stroke during the night. He was recovering alright but not the way he should have been, and later that night he stopped breathing. The doctors continued to fight for him, so they put him on life support. He was on it for seven days and was never able to breathe on his own again. He was young, healthy, and only had a 7.8% chance of this occurring to him. So out of the 7 billion people that live in this world, why does it happen to him and not someone more vulnerable? The lines “When your veins are stopped by blood clots” and “...the soul is like the body: made to be broken, open to deterioration and doubt” brought me back to the two things that have haunted me forever, suffering and death. What this poem tells me is that if you start thinking about death, you are no longer sure to live a full life. However, I believe that there is no way to avoid suffering and death because it is all part of life. But, the way you wrote this poem gave me a whole new perspective of how to overcome these things. The two lines above present a problem and you also give a solution throughout the poem. Almost everyone in the world is going to face a health issue, no matter how big or small, and it is not only the doctor’s job to help someone recover. It is also the patient's job to help themselves recover because even though it is hard, your body is meant to be torn apart and put back together again. But how are we supposed to be put together again? The repetition of the word, “keep in mind,” told me that as a patient, you have to remember all of the things that make you want to fight harder. Family, friends, pets, jobs, hobbies, or even plants. Which ties directly back to the title, “Give Yourself Some Flowers.” This made me imagine someone in a hospital suffering from something, anything. To keep themselves motivated, they give themselves some flowers because it is something that will continue to encourage them. Your poem opened my eyes to a whole new way of thinking. Because your poem had many strong thoughts about life and death, what is your belief about this... what do people do when they die? I know that there is no answer to this question, but I have heard many different opinions. One that stuck out to me was what my Rabbi said to me. “I believe that you don’t die, your spirit lives forever, and your living soul is your spirit.” And as you said in the poem, your soul is supposed to be broken, hurt, and loved but how do you keep living when it gets too hard? I would like to hear your opinions on these questions because your poem changed the way I thought about something that is a burden on my life.
I appreciate you writing me and telling me the story of your grandfather. My grandfather also died after complications from a stroke, so I completely sympathize with what you are feeling. It’s really hard, isn’t it?
The “Give Yourself Some Flowers” poem was an opportunity for me to take a step back and remind myself that I am okay, despite anxiety and depression. We are all whole and worthy people. Though that’s my truth, it’s always nice to be reminded because life can be really, really challenging.
I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your analysis and interpretation of the poem. The repetition parts—“Keep in mind …,” for example—are meant to mimic a chant. A meditation. I wrote this poem from that space.
I’m so honored that it helped you to open your eyes to these issues. It’s my belief that poetry—at least my poetry—isn’t telling you something that you don’t already know. These things are reminders. Once we tap into that level of communication, we are simply reminding ourselves of the joy we felt as kids. The love we felt before we had to face hardships.
To answer your questions:
what is your belief about this... what do people do when they die?
Oooh, deep question. I’m proud to say that … I don’t know! What I believe is that memories are spirits. Memories never die, so spirits never die. Every person that you meet becomes a part of you. Especially if you are intimate with that person as a friend or more. Especially if they are family. With family, you literally have DNA inside of you from someone else! That’s powerful, and will never go away.
your soul is supposed to be broken, hurt, and loved but how do you keep living when it gets too hard?
I think holding on to the truth that we are whole is important. No matter what happens in life, we are worthy. I also think that souls are pure—life can throw many hardships our way, but I believe that challenges are simply tests. I approach everything that way. And if I “fail” the test, then that’s okay! Meditation helps me realize all of these things.
Thank you again for all of your love.