Ms. Naomi Shihab Nye
Chancellor, Academy of American Poets
San Antonio, Texas

Dear Ms. Nye,

My name is Sam and I am a freshman in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I am writing this letter to talk to you about your poem. I read, “How Do I Know When a Poem is Finished?” as I was looking around the Academy of American Poets website, and I wanted to talk to you about it, and tell you that I really like it.

A reason this poem caught my eye is that I could relate to it. For as long as I have written poems, I have struggled with when I should stop editing them. Sometimes, I would think I was done and find out that I still had a lot more work ahead of me, and sometimes I thought I should keep working and it was complete. I enjoyed the metaphor that made up the poem, comparing a poem to a room. The personification throughout the poem expanded the metaphor even more, and it made it seem more life-like and relatable as more detail was added. After reading it, I have a couple of questions. Do you think of this poem and use it as a guide when writing a poem yourself? Also, do your students find it as helpful as I do, and do you read it to them during their poetry unit?

In your poem, you made many good points with your lines, some being that you aren’t done with a poem if you leave it alone for a while, and that while you may change some small things, there are certain things that are better the way they are written, so you may as well leave them that way. I believe that your message is that you know a poem is finished when you feel as if you can leave the majority of it the way it is. I am glad I was able to read your poem, as I know I will use it in the future when I am trying to write my own poems.

Mainly, I was just writing to tell you that I really enjoyed your poem, and that I was able to connect with it due to the fact that I have experienced what your students have experienced. Thanks for reading this letter, and I am glad I got the chance to write you.


Grade 9
Milwaukee, WI

Dear Sam,

Thanks so much for your kind letter!  Nice to hear from Milwaukee—one of my favorite American places—I love how the roof of your art museum opens and closes like butterfly wings.

I am glad you like the poem “How Do I Know When a Poem is Finished?” and that it has some relevance and meaning for you.

Although I don’t actually think of the poem consciously when writing other poems, its notions are always inside me and probably help me maneuver.

What you say about going away from the poem and coming back to it seems very very helpful, and this would apply to book reports and science papers and essays and everything else as well.

Sometimes it’s even helpful to sit in different spots in a single room to get a different view—see the light enter in a way we don’t usually notice—and work on the poem again from that angle.

Here’s wishing you well in everything you write in your life!


Naomi Shihab Nye
San Antonio, Texas

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