As part of the 2022 Dear Poet project, students around the country and the world wrote letters to Marilyn Chin in response to a video of her reading her poem “Shadowless Shadow” aloud. Marilyn Chin wrote letters back to nine of these students; their letters and her replies are included below.
Dear Young Readers:
Thank you so much for your kind letters and for your deep dives into “Shadowless Shadow.” Frankly, I was worried that the poem might be too weird and complex for young readers, but your responses were amazingly smart and engaging! I love hearing from this new generation of brilliant thinkers and poetry lovers.
I was fascinated by all your questions and evocative interpretations. Remember, there are many ways to read a poem! No wrong way; no right way. The poet, herself, is often mystified by her own imagination. All I yearn for, as a practicing poet, is that you are deeply engaged and love the reading process, even if the process makes you scratch your teeming brain.
Basically, for “Shadowless Shadow,” I wanted to express how one’s personal fears can mirror a nation’s collective fears. We all have our shadows and struggles. Sometimes, we need to confront our fears to transcend them and find solutions. A poem rarely offers an objective solution, but sometimes, as we unravel a poem, we discover the truths that are deeply relevant to our lives.
I live in San Diego, which is on the border of California and Mexico. I often see and hear ICE helicopters whirling over my head. Although I am a naturalized citizen, I still feel anxiety each time I hear those blades. I have this persistent and unreasonable fear about being deported. Sometimes, it’s difficult to eliminate childhood trauma.
Many of you shared personal, heart-rending stories about your past struggles and how you were able to transcend them. Life is challenging. Sometimes life isn’t fair. Sometimes we must go through darkness to come to light.
Most of you loved the dog character, who is inspired by my neighbor’s huge scary Rottweiler.” Yes, he was a “real” hellhound and not just an abstraction.
His bark was so fierce that even his owner feared him. He would escape from his chains and come to my back door and lunge at me. He sputtered a mean “sputum!” I was so terrified of him that I suppressed his name and can’t recall it to this day. Suddenly, last year, he disappeared. The family said they gave him away.
To be honest, I miss him. I believe that he was warning us about impending doom. The hills of my city were burning because of climate change; a pandemic was brewing…children were suffering at the border…I believe that animals have a six sense and can predict the future. This poem memorializes him…through his spirit, I was able to open my imagination, delve deeply into personal and universal concerns. I truly miss him and hope that he is in a safe place--that someone has offered a pink leash.
With love and peace,
Chancellor Marilyn Chin