Dear Alicia Ostriker,
Reading your poem “Utopian” filled me with sorrow and a small sense of hope. The thought of a perfect society where all discrimination is no more makes me think that our world still has a chance while we are still together. Having the buildings be made of glass pertain to human interaction as a whole. The things we say that may or may not be true affect the world, and those lies are the reasons we aren’t perfect. The question in the matter is not why can’t we make society perfect, but what faults we can correct so we can live in imperfect harmony?
The lines that popped out the most to me was “beneath the city they have buried certain words / which can never be spoken again / chiefly the word divorce which is eaten by maggots.” These lines stood out amongst the others mainly because of its meaning in today’s world, with bullying and cyberbullying. Words that hurt the victim can’t be taken back and we can only dream that forgiveness was that simple. But we can work towards that dream and make sure that we can still make amends.
I have a few questions as to your inspiration of this poem. Were there moments in your childhood that made you think of a perfect world? Were you trying to communicate a lack of innocence in the recent generations with the daughter having thought of the utopia? Are some of your phrases meant to address real life issues? Do you think that we are closer to the utopia that we can’t reach but can live close to? I do wish that I can receive a response from you!
Edison, New Jersey
Thank you for your sensitive and insightful response to my poem "Utopian." You are wise to see in the poem the idea that though we live in a world that may be hurtful in many ways, and we cannot hope to make it perfect, we can still try to change enough so that we can live "in imperfect harmony." That is a beautiful phrase, and I wish I'd thought of it. Imperfect harmony, yes, we can strive for that. Sorrow mingled with hope is what I often feel. A fine balance that helps me on my way—and maybe works for you too.
The glass buildings in the poem symbolize honesty and also fragility. The daughter in the poem is a mix of a real person—a dollmaker who makes many different kinds of ideal dolls—and my own imagination of what she may be living and hoping for. Of course I too, in childhood and still as an adult, try to imagine, and help create, a better world. I'm guessing so do you.