Dear Forrest Gander,
I am a 9th grade student. My English 1 class is doing the Dear Poet Project. I was particularly interested by one of your poems called “Passion & Risk.” It is not as much the story it told that intrigued me, but the structure and form that it is written in and spoken. To me it really creates a more powerful message to it as if the speaker is José Cubero’s best friend telling the story between breaths, perhaps holding back tears. Why exactly did you chose this way to write it? I really thought that the story and the structure went well together as they mentally paint a picture of the story told in the poem.
What did the line “and twilight gasped” mean? Why was the story you chose to write the story you wrote?
Such cool questions! It really made my heart swell to learn how you read the poem and how you paid attention to the structure and form. And what you imagine about the friend telling the story between breaths, holding back tears, is very beautiful and deeply felt. I think you spoke better about the poem than I can. I’d say basically the same thing you do. I want the poem to produce an emotional experience that is as complex—it has to do with friendship and bravery and tragedy, among other things—and dramatic as the actual event. So the form of the poem both isolates certain small moments so that we see them clearly, but also keeps us in suspension about how they connect to other moments. So nothing is quite clear to us—and that may make us more curious and more involved in reading and relating to the poem since, instead of telling you everything or laying it all out like a story, you, the reader, have to juggle the different parts and put them together. Hopefully, the energy of the poem makes you want to do that. When I write that “the twilight gasped” I’m using a metaphor. Of course it is the people who gasp, but it might seem to them that all of nature is gasping with them, as though the twilight itself is also gasping in shock to witness the beloved matador killed before his time. By saying that the twilight gasped instead of that the people gasped, I sort of mythologize the event and make the emotional force a little bigger—if it works. Oh, and I wrote the story because I’m also a translator and have been to some bullfights in Mexico and Spain. This poem is based on an actual event described in this article.