Dear Chancellor Gander,

My name is Kevin, and I am a sophomore in high school. Our English class has recently started our poetry unit. To be honest I do not enjoy studying poetry and it is quite frankly a burden to me. But I have not always thought like this, poetry used to be about writing a silly story or describing an object while every two lines rhyme, fun and very simple. Nowadays we spend weeks on learning to paraphrasing, tone, shift, and Metre and rhyme. Oh how I hate to do metre and Rhyme. I feel as if we are given a poem and forced to churn out our ideas and thoughts of the poem based on what the teachers understanding is, like a wet shirt being squeezed, twisted and kneading it over and over again to get the water out of it. Now we are taking part of the Dear Poet Project, and you are the poet I chose.

For one of our Dear Poet assignments we had to watch all the videos of the poets in the Academy of American Poets website. I was planning on picking the easiest poem and just analyze it simply and write down things, and easy answers that I thought my teacher would like to see. The first video I watched I thought was too long and would probably be too hard to analyze so I went on to the next one. That is when I came across your video, after I had finished your video I remember thinking in my head, What?... I was very confused because to me I thought this poem didn't make sense. I couldn't find a way to analyze it, I didn't think there was any other meaning and I couldn't find a lot of the elements of poetry I had been taught to find.

When I saw the different format of the actual poem it made me think about why it would be like this. I became even more confused, I had some guesses on why the poem would be formatted like that, but was not confident in any of them. The poem and the format of the poem really came together and turned into a really strange poem I have never read before. I have read weird poems that don't make sense but your poem really had a understandable story but I just didn't know the meaning.

Usually I do not think too much when it comes to poetry. But “Passion & Risk” made me think unconsciously. Using your poem and this Dear Poet project assignment, I got a really good understanding of the life of many professional poets and how it is like to be a poet. It was very interesting to see all the different poems and poets. I now see how special poetry is, it comes from the poet's mind from people who spend years practicing simple things like the ones we learn in class. From what I've got from this poem, I have reached a new understanding of poetry. You can't really truly understand what a poem is about. All poems come from the poet's mind, you can make something out of what the poet wrote, but you'll most likely never know exactly what the poet meant. This is what is interesting about poetry you have to think deeply it may mean something exact to the poet, but the reader can take a completely different meaning based on the readers personality or experiences. You learn to understand poetry better but again at the end, you have to interpret it how you personally interpret it. The poet uses their skills and tools to be able to guide the reader towards a direction they can make it easier to understand or harder, you can add obvious lessons and use tools, but the rest is on the reader. Poems can tell a story, connect to the reader, or effect the reader on a personal level. A poem is capable of doing so many things, and it is limitless with no boundaries. And I now know that, that is the beauty of poetry that is why we study poetry for so long and how so many people love and commit their life to it. Or maybe I am incorrect, maybe the evaluation I made for this assignment is completely wrong, but at least I was able to spend some time truly analyzing and thinking. Thank you for this opportunity you gave to me with your poem, and thanks to the Academy of the American Poets for establishing this program.

Sincerely Yours,

Grade 10
Fairfax, Virginia

Dear Kevin,

I grew up in Annandale and my mom and my sister live in Fairfax, so I’m often in your hometown visiting. It’s a pretty amazing letter that you’ve written me. The truth is, I’m completely in agreement with you about a lot of what you say. I get bored with meter and rhyme. It’s sort of like talking about kissing in terms of how many millimeters of your lips should touch someone else’s, and precisely how long you should hold it, and what you should look while you are kissing. In other words, you can lose track of what you are feeling if you focus first on all the technical aspects. I think poetry, like kissing and like all art, has to be felt first. If you get excited about what you feel, THEN you might want to figure out why. And then you get interested, maybe, in meter and rhyme. But most contemporary poets aren’t working in meter and most aren’t using end-rhyme either. Those are historical approaches to poetry and that can be wonderful to learn about—but usually after you feel something about why poetry can be powerful to you personally. Once something really whacks you on the head or in the heart, then you want to learn everything you can about it.

In the poem you wrote to me about, I don’t try to summarize the “meaning” of the poem. I try to get language to act out a dramatic scene that involves tragedy and bravery and friendship, among other things. I want the stresses and the line breaks and the way the poem moves across the page to isolate specific moments and to connect them to other moments in the same dramatic way that the bullfight itself takes place. And the meaning is just what you feel at the end. It’s not the kind of poem where something stands for something else and you need to study a book to understand it. It’s a poem that happens and, hopefully, when you read it, your body is involved with the sounds and the movement. Your mind is involved in trying to distinguish how the parts link together. That seems to me more representative of my actual experience in the world than a story that has an introduction, a middle, and a clear ending that sort of wraps everything up. I never have the feeling that anything—anything I feel or witness or experience—can be wrapped up into an explanatory statement. Do you?

Forrest Gander

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