Dear Brenda Hillman,
Today, it seems as though hate is lurking around every corner. I read your poem “Autumn Ritual with Hate Turned Sideways,” and I immediately thought it was so appropriate for the world we live in today. With all of the war, terrorism, and prejudice we see, it is rare to find kindness or love. That is why it’s so important to evaluate ourselves and regularly put our hate to rest.
We are constantly reminded of all the hate whenever we open up the newspaper, turn on our phone, or flip up the screen of our laptop and see the latest news headlines. When I read the words from your poem, “Whack-whack. Weapon contractors in Virginia. Whack. Get well T. Won’t kill with you,” it reminded me of all the wars going on around the world. The recent use of chemical weapons in Syria is just one example to be considered. Out of hate, the President of Syria launched chemical attacks on his own citizens, cruelly and brutally killing innocent civilians, even young children and babies, with lethal amounts of a sarin nerve agent. Hate can propel you to act irrationally, to do things you would normally view as morally wrong. This just further shows how important it is to rid ourselves of hate, which is solidly illustrated in your poem.
Whether we hate with our words or with physical attacks, both can be deadly. Recently, 11-year-old Tyson Benz hanged himself after his 13-year-old, reportedly abusive, girlfriend pranked him on social media. She pretended to commit suicide, her friends all in on the cruel “joke.” Heartbroken, Tyson committed suicide himself, proving that words can kill just as much as physical attacks can. This is just another example that confirms how important resting our hate really is. Of course, putting our hate to bed is a process. It takes real effort to let go of grudges and prejudices. A quote from your poem that displays this is, “Now. Be able to breathe for the E, breathe into the prongs. Slide on its back. E, E, E. Put the E to bed. Get well, E.” Resting feelings of hate puts you back in control of your emotions, actions, and speech. It’s a way of keeping yourself “in check,” so to speak. Not doing this can have devastating consequences, easily avoidable by ridding ourselves of hate.
Finally, I have some questions for you regarding your poem. What inspired you to write “Autumn Ritual with Hate Turned Sideways”? Was it a personal experience that motivated you to do so? When you feel hate, what steps do you take to pull it “to the resting zone”? Is it hard for you to do? I know it must take much self-control to manage natural feelings. I am just curious and would like some words of wisdom to help me control my emotions in difficult situations.
Thank you for writing a poem that shines a light on hate, illuminating a solution everyone can use to put it to rest. There will always be wicked people in the world, spreading hate wherever they go. There will always be people succumbing to the hate left by them. But, with your help, I will now be able to extinguish the flame of hatred, leaving a trail of love instead.
Thank you so much for taking the time to write a strong and sensitive letter about my poem “Autumn Ritual with Hate Turned Sideways.” I am glad you enjoyed the poem, and that you were interested in its various odd devices.
I appreciate the way you brought in so many aspects of contemporary news into your reading of the piece, since the poem might be put into the category of “political poetry”— though that category is a large and in some ways controversial. As a young person, you are exposed to a lot of news of war, which may not be under your nose but strongly affects you because of the internet. I share your heartbreak about the young people in Syria being destroyed by immediate and systemic violence. Conscious people in the U.S. feel terribly helpless, but despite our feelings of helplessness, we should stay educated and work to change injustice in ways we can as individuals. Maybe you can work with a group of people at your school to promote justice in the world. The heartbreaking story of the child responding to bullying by committing suicide must seem closer to home; you probably know children who are victimized by bullying at your school. It is so hard to calibrate a sense of outrage with the desire not to hate the oppressors who victimize others, knowing they are often themselves victims. I’m sure that you will work to address bullying when you see it.
One of the things I wrestle with is trying balance having an artist’s response— the place from which I make poetry, full of paradox and nuanced feeling—with being tough enough to stay informed and to take action when I should as a citizen, mother and grandmother. You ask about controlling your emotions in those times; I have a bad temper, and so when I see injustice, I want to explode, especially if it’s at a protest. So this has been a learning process for me in my work as an activist, especially as we have to try nonviolence as the first resort. You don’t have to fix the whole thing all at once—it is something to work on your whole life.
You asked some smart questions about composition. My poetry tends toward the experiments in language because I like to feel spiritually free when I think poetically. I’m glad you connected with some of the metaphoric parts of the poem such as transforming the use of letters as weapons in HATE. What inspired me to write the poem was that I was working on a book in which the letters of the alphabet seemed to have specific powers and enchantment. I believe letters and works have extra energy—in a symbolic not literal sense. Often I work with meditation or trance (waking dream); I was imagining the letters of HATE going down little staircases where they could rest and “take a breather” in the quiet basement.
It is important to use imagination as a tool, so the life of the spirit and language can work together. Many spiritual systems are accompanied by poetry, so I hope you will take poems with you wherever you go. If you need suggestions, you can write to me or to the other people at Academy of American Poets.
Best wishes for your writing, for your studies in middle school and beyond!
read more dear poet letters 2017