As part of the 2022 Dear Poet project, students around the country and the world wrote letters to Semaj Brown in response to a video of her reading her poem “Black Dandelion” aloud. Semaj Brown wrote letters back to six of these students; their letters and her replies are included below.
Semaj Brown also wrote a response to all of the participants of this year's Dear Poet project.
Reading a poem is much like purchasing an airplane ticket without knowing the destination. One must have courage to rise and embark on such a blind journey. Trust is a key factor in boarding. You, readers of “Black Dandelion” took a chance and trusted a title and went on that excursion flying retro into the heart of a dandelion standing tall in the middle of the turmoil of the Civil Rights era. “Black Dandelion” is conveyed in memory snapshots through the recollections of a small child.
The magic of poetry is that all the passengers look through the window of the poem and see something different. Thank you for sharing your varied visions with me. Reading your letters was like looking into a kaleidoscope full of color, intrigue and overlapping patterns. I have been increased by your insights; my lens expanded exponentially. Now, I see through your eyes. My world is larger from Cali to D.C. to Wisconsin to Florida, the States United and beyond. Your writings are the greatest gift I could have ever imagined.
My heart broke repeatedly as I encountered the imprint of historical trauma. Your letters taught me that though “Black Dandelion” grew out of my experience as a Black girl in America, the script is global, only the generations and ethnicities change. There is something so basic yet noble about treating others with respect and rising above opposition. This narrative was exemplified in a letter which connected the Black Dandelion story to bullying.
I rejoiced in glee, meeting your families: ancestors, brothers, sisters, grandparents conveyed artfully through your well-written letters. The poetry bond is a universal bond. It is the best of us.
Thank you for lingering over the words of “Black Dandelion,” for sitting with time and questioning. Your thoughtful inquiries compelled me to board a private jet and search my sky for meaning. The answers uncovered drew me closer to my forgotten truths, and for that I am eternally grateful.
Make poetry your friend. Keep a verse in your pocket, purse, or phone. Bring it out in sadness. Bring it out in brightness.
Flint, Michigan's Inaugural Poet Laureate
Academy of American Poets Poets Laureate Fellow