Dear Ms. Hirshfield,

My name is Vanessa. I’m a junior and have been a Creative Writing student for two years now. Because my class is participating in the Dear Poet Project, I read/listened to your poem “It Was Like This: You Were Happy” and I’m glad that I did.

What struck me about this piece was not just the way you combined brevity and abstraction in the first few stanzas, but the fact that it still felt relatable to me. Your stanzas were simple yet powerful, and I feel like that style embodies the perceived “black and white” sentiment of life: yes or no, do or don’t, to be or not to be. I’m confused as to whether or not this poem advocates that, or if you intentionally left these gaps for the reader to interpret and automatically apply their own hardships to. Did you want the reader to stop and remember that life doesn’t always feel so simple as a way to set up the poem? I find that to be a very interesting way to convey a message without actually stating it.

As a writer, this is something I’ve always tried to achieve in my poetry, but always felt that my thoughts would be too out-there for anyone but me to understand. I typically end up adding more detail than necessary as a way to force the point across. Abstraction in thoughts, I think, is inspiring and lovely, but how can you measure it down so that a reader can relate to it? Is it okay to “not make sense” if you and/or a potential reader can still feel something towards it?

That is why I love this line so much: “It doesn’t matter what they make of you/ or your days: they will be wrong,/ they will miss the wrong woman, miss the wrong man,/ all the stories they tell will be tales of their own invention.” Not only is the language beautiful, but it sends a reassuring message (to me, at least) that we do what we do based on our own unique thought process—one that no one is entitled to know—and that is valid. It feels like a call to simply let go of the self-doubt and just be.           

I’d appreciate it if you replied back to me, and thank you for taking the time to read this letter.

Grade 11
Livingston, New Jersey

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