Dear David St. John,
My name is Ella and I’m in the seventh grade in Anderson, South Carolina. My English class just wrapped up our unit in poetry. I love how your poem makes me think. When I listened to you reading "Guitar," it made me think of my love for music and all of the memories it comes with. I play four instruments, the alto saxophone, ukulele, piano and the guitar. When you mentioned your father, my thoughts went straight to my own dad, because the guitar I play is his. As a musician, hearing your memories of the musical childhood you had makes me feel happy. The imagery you set was astonishing in my mind.
The words that start and finish the poem are very clever. It makes me feel like you have all these memories with the guitar, yet the thing you love most about it is its name. It makes me think of all of the treasures and wonderful things I own that I love. But the things I love most are the smallest things. I’ve been asked why a pair of earrings or a notebook was so special and I always replied with, “ They contain a whole lot of memories.”
Again, thank you for sharing your wonderful poem. It has been an inspiration to me and the upcoming poems I will write.
Anderson, South Carolina
Thank you so much for writing to me! I’m so pleased that my poem helped you to remember your own love of music and also those memories that we have that are often themselves connected to music, to the songs we love and to the people we love. You are so lucky to be playing your father’s guitar, because it helps to link you to those memories and feelings that your father must have about playing that guitar as well.
Have you and your father talked about his guitar? Has he told you the story of how he first got that guitar and what his favorite songs were when he began playing the guitar? What are his own memories of playing that guitar that he might be able to share with you? Since you play so many instruments, it sounds as if you’ve had a very musical childhood yourself. Do you have a musical family, beyond you and your father?
Let me also say that you have also recognized the secret that, sometimes in a life, the smallest things can hold the most powerful memories and resonances of a certain time or place or even of a particular friendship. In any poem, it is the details that convey the most powerful aspects of an experience, and not the naming of a feeling, but those specific details that recall that feeling or that experience.
A poem, like a life, is made up of special and specific details and those many individual small things that you mention in your letter, like the detail of a pair of earrings, or a notebook. The big things are often what we think of as abstractions—like the idea of death, a feeling of “sadness”—that we might all share in some way, but those little things are the secrets that sometimes hold meanings that only we might know, just as the details in the poem “Guitar” are really special secrets from my own life that I’ve chosen to share with you and those readers who understand that a poem of memories is also often a poem of quietly, and musically, revealed secrets.
Thank you once again for this really lovely letter.
All best to you and more thanks,