As part of the 2020 Dear Poet project, students around the country and the world wrote letters to Molly Fisk in response to a video of her reading her poem “Summer Lightning” aloud. Molly Fisk wrote letters back to five of these students; their letters and her replies are included below, along with several additional responses from students.

Molly Fisk also wrote a response to all of the participants of this year's Dear Poet project.

Dear Students,

Thank you so much for writing to me about my poem "Summer Lightning." You saw a lot of themes in the poem that I wasn't thinking about at all when I wrote it. I'm not someone who analyzes as I write: I respond to the images in front of me and what I might know about a subject already.

In this case, the fire I'm speaking about did start with lightning igniting one branch, and then the branch lighting the rest of the tree on fire and starting a huge conflagration, which I read about in the newspaper (though the smoke covered my town a few days later). It seemed logical to me at the time: this is what lightning does, and how fire works, and that led me to think about another thing I don't like: the logic of the cat and the hummingbird, something that had happened a few hours before in my living room.

The idea of balance has always helped me get through hard times. That there can still be beauty while disaster is going on...that even while people I love are dying, others are being born. Lightning and fire are both beautiful and deadly. One of you asked the question: should humans interfere or interrupt the natural order. I think that has a complex answer. I'm fond of electricity, for instance, which we wouldn't have without damming rivers: a definite interruption of nature. Generally, I try to interfere as little as possible in the natural order, but I do try to keep my cats from eating birds by putting bells on their collars (which doesn't always work).

There's a lot of compromise involved in living. I hope you'll think about that as you wend your way through high school and college, if you're going to college. I believe in and appreciate balance, but the idea of two polar opposites: good/bad, right/wrong, that are absolute and always can be relied on isn't something I agree with. So many circumstances vary depending on the context, and so many times the answer to a question isn't either/or but both. 

Thanks again for writing, and I wish you much good luck in your studies and patience with the virtual world as long as we have to put up with it. 

All my best,


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