Dear Forrest Gander,

My name is Hari and I am a 9th grade student. The poem you have written, “Passion & Risk,” interests me monumentally. Every single time I read through it, I develop a different understanding and feeling about the event that occurs.

In one instance, I perceive the poem as a gruesome, gory, and horrifying moment to think about. However, in another instance, I think of the poem as a story of a brave bullfighter proving himself as a warrior in front of a grand audience. In your poem, there is a sense of space left for interpretation which I admire greatly.

Another aspect of the poem I find intriguing is the fact that you leave inconsistent spacing before and after lines. Why did you decide to publish the poem this way? I personally considered it as separating phrases in order to leave a gap for the reader to take the information in. This makes the poem by far the most unique I have read.

The final characteristic of the poem I wanted to bring up was how you presented it. In the video shared, it seems as if you expressed the poem with pauses and stresses on some words such as “little boy” making me wonder how a little boy would experience this life-changing event. Those stresses you place give the reader a sense of purpose for every individual word you have written.

Here are some questions that came up for me. What inspired you to write about this specific event? Do you have any connection with it? Why end off with the goring of the bullfighter being held up in the air?


Grade 9
Newtown, Pennsylvania

Dear Hari,

Thanks so much for your letter and for the quality of your thinking about the poem. Yes, you’re right. Like you, I think that any event has more than one meaning at the same time. And for lots of important moments—say, for instance, when someone tells you that they love you or when you are up late at night and looking through your window at distant lights, the words or events can be complex. They don’t necessarily mean anything logical or intellectual. Instead, what they really mean is what you feel. And your feelings aren’t easy to limit or explain as just this or that. So I don’t try to tell the reader what to think about the poem. The poem narrates an experience that has to do with bravery and tragedy and friendship, among other things. But at the same time, with the stresses and the lineation that you noted, the poem acts out what happens, leading us to focus on specific charged moments instead of the whole thing at once. I’m a translator from Spanish to English, and so I’ve seen bullfights and read about bullfights in Spain and Mexico. This particular poem was inspired by actual events. It ends in an unresolved action instead of in a statement or clear resolution because then the reader imagines what might come next instead of me explaining it, which would be boring.

Forrest Gander

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