Dear David St. John,
I am Wes, and I live in the small town in Wisconsin. When I was younger, I lived in the beautiful town of Boise, Idaho. I enjoy exploring the outdoors, playing piano, ukulele, and drums, and writing. At my high school, I am enrolled in a class called American Literature. See, many people, including myself, find American Literature leaning a bit on the boring side, but I rather enjoy poetry month. So far my class has done blackout poetry, haikus, tankas, and villanelles, and poem memorization.
Immediately when my teacher played the video of you reading “Guitar”, I thought of my brother Winston. Once a week, he goes to guitar lessons in a neighboring town to learn more about guitar, and he is getting quite good. Your uses of descriptions throughout the piece are impeccable. The reader can picture the mother polishing her flute on the wicker chair. Mr. John, I also really enjoyed your reading voice; how dramatically and slowly you read the piece gave it a nice touch and helped the message to get through clearly. I know a girl in forensics who would love some advice on how to wow the judge!
When I finished reading “Guitar”, I looked up who Charlie Christian was. I found out that he was an American guitarist who played jazz music. Then, I wanted to know where Tucumcari was and where it was in correspondence with Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. By researching, I discovered that Tucumcari was a city in New Mexico. Have you ever visited Tucumcari or Oklahoma City? What inspired you to put that line in your poetry?
I enjoyed the free verse rhyme scheme of your poem. We had learned about free verse poetry earlier this year American Literature with Walt Whitman and his collection of poems. I actually taught a class period where I explained Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall” which also utilized blank verse. Were you inspired or influenced by either of these poets? Were you inspired by somebody else? Thank you for the opportunity to write to you, and I hope I will hear from you myself.
Cedar Grove, Wisconsin
What absolutely wonderful observations you’ve made in your letter about my poem “Guitar!” Thank you so much for your very kind comments, and I loved hearing about your time in Boise before you moved to Cedar Grove, as that connection you’ve made between the natural world and those other, artist things that one does (you mention playing piano, ukulele and drums, and writing) is a connection many people don’t make until later in their lives.
That is, you’ve already recognized that the pleasures of the outdoors are similar with the pleasures of music, of travel, other arts and even of a certain kind of solitude that we enjoy in many of those activities as well.
I was also happy to hear about your brother and his guitar lessons, and maybe you and he can find some recordings of Charlie Christian’s amazing jazz guitar playing! I think you’d both love to hear him and his unique style.
We all have people who influence us both in our lives and in the arts we might turn to, whether it’s poetry or music, painting or theater, dance or sculpture—and for me, the two poets you mention, Whitman and Frost, stand as examples of some of the very greatest American poetry we know, in part because they brought the speech of daily life and ordinary people into their poems, helping us to hear the voices of our whole country though their own voices and poems. You were right to ask—they both have been enormous influences for me from the very beginning of my writing life.
Maybe this sense of a large America is also one of the reasons I also like to put beautiful sounding place names like Tucumcari or Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in my poems, the help honor some of the many places I’ve travelled and to help us remember that we live in a very large and exciting country. Also, you might want to listen to the songs “Willin’” by the band Little Feat or “Route 66” by Chuck Berry. They all liked both of those cities too! Maybe you and your brother can learn those songs together?
Thanks again for your great letter!
All best and more thanks,