As part of the 2020 Dear Poet project, students around the country and the world wrote letters to Natasha Trethewey in response to a video of her reading her poem “Providence” aloud. Natasha Trethewey wrote letters back to two of these students; their letters and her replies are included below, along with several additional responses from students.
Natasha Trethewey also wrote a response to all of the participants of this year's Dear Poet project.
Thank you all so much for your thoughtful letters and kind words about my poem “Providence.” I noticed that so many of you found ways to relate to it through your own memories of living through natural disasters or our current, shared experience with the COVID-19 pandemic. Something that makes this particular art form special is the way we can engage both our public histories and personal stories and—with craft and specific vocabulary—create a poem that can reach across time and space.
I often share with my own students this quotation from Philip Levine, who said, “I write what’s given me to write.” I know that I—and I think we all do—have these histories and these stories we need to make sense of, but my goal as a writer is to do it in such a way that I can share it with a reader who finds something that resonates there. I hope you’ll all continue to seek out and read poems that interest and inspire you, and maybe even write your own. Perhaps you’ll look at something you’ve already lived through or discover the buried histories of your own hometowns and come across something interesting there that you want to further explore in the language of poetry.