Dear David St. John,
Hello sir! How are you doing? I hope you’re doing well. I bet you’re probably wondering who this stranger sending a message to you is. Well my name is Assha. I wanted to say a few things to you about your poem “Guitar.” I really think it was an awesome piece of work. I especially like how you put so much meaning into the lines. I wasn’t aware that one line can hold so much deep meaning and feelings. You say you have no memories, but the word guitar holds so many. Not to mention the fact that you point out the specific things that guitar makes you think of. It makes the poem a whole lot more interesting. The line that especially stands out to me is this one:
I have no memories of my father on the patio
At dusk, strumming a Spanish tune,
Or my mother draped in that faun wicker chair
Polishing her flute
How do you have no memories, but you are still able to remember that? It just makes everything so much more interesting.
I hope you don’t mind me asking a few questions. For starters, what gave you the idea to write this poem? Is it based off your real life or something you just made up? Which part of the poem stood out more to you personally? What event in your life gave you the thought of writing this? I know it might be a lot to ask, and maybe a little personal in your opinion, but I would really appreciate it if you answer my questions in the best way you can. Thank you.
Your average person,
Bronx, New York
Thank you so much for your wonderful letter and your terrific questions as well!
In answer to your one of your questions, I began playing guitar at a very young age—eleven years old—and I soon started playing in a variety of rock ‘n’ roll bands from the time I was in junior high school through my high school years. I also was very involved, during those years, with folk music and roots musicians as well. Yet in college I began to write poetry seriously (I’d been writing songs for some time already), as a student of the remarkable poet Philip Levine, and in the end I turned to poetry as my artistic direction, even though I kept playing music casually with my friends.
When I began writing the poem “Guitar” I was thinking back on the profound place that music—and a variety of very cool guitars—has always had in my life, in relation to my family, to my friends, and also to my experience of the somewhat odd assortment of places where I’d seen music performed: high school auditoriums, small community centers, as well as some fancy and very ornate concert halls.
One detail about a line from the poem that might interest you: during the middle 1960s, The Longshoremen’s Hall in San Francisco was a popular venue for bands like The Grateful Dead, The Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin (with Big Brother & the Holding Company), and the Quicksilver Messenger Service. That’s why it appears in the poem.
Yet, in this poem, I also wanted to suggest that language itself (especially poetry), and the individual words themselves, contain a marvelous music as well. I hope this helps you have a sense of the way that this poem arose from a very personal patchwork of memories and pleasures, and I’m always thrilled to find those experiences can be shared so fully by careful and attentive readers like you!
All best and more thanks,