Dear Ms. Nelson,
I hope this letter finds you well! My name is Eileen Huang, and I believe we met in person at the Poets Forum earlier in NYC this year. Firstly, I would like to thank you for giving me and other students the opportunity to write to you about poetry. Additionally, I would like to thank you (belatedly) for your book, American Ace, that you sent me a while ago – I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Connor’s experiences. I had planned on sending a letter back, but I was unable to find your contact information, so I am thrilled to get the chance to write to you – call it serendipity!
I really enjoyed reading your poem “Continental Army” as well as your other collections. As someone who enjoys writing lyrical and narrative poems largely based on my own experiences, I thought that the way you chose to focus on the experience of an individual as opposed to anything abstract was pretty fascinating. I was wondering why, in your poems such as “Continental Army,” “Tub-Men,” and “Land Owner,” you chose to write about the experiences of people in an almost biographical way. When I write poems about people, I feel as if, even with all the details and words I use to describe them, I never get a complete sketch of them. Like a painter and his subject, I can’t make a portrait – only doodles. Why did you choose those specific details to describe a person in your poems – such as the narrator of “Continental Army” seeing Washington and his horse as “one being,” or the speaker of “Tub-Men” emptying “the privies of the elite” – and if the “sketches” of the people you write about ever feel complete? (I realize that question is a bit confusing/meandering, but I would love to hear your thoughts!)
I was also wondering, being a history nerd, why you choose poetry as a medium through which you can document specific cultures and historical events. Why did you choose verse as a format to write about Tuskegee airmen/famous African-American figures, or the people in Seneca Village? I’d love to hear your process behind this decision!
Lastly, I’m curious as to why or if you think poetry is important. Coming from a community where many people are not focused on poetry and the liberal arts (both my parents are engineers, and I attend a rigorous STEM high school), I usually meet other who believe that poetry is no longer relevant today – the whole “poetry is dead” thing. How would you respond to that opinion? I’d love to know!
Once again, thanks so much for the book and the chance to write to you! It’s so great to reach out to a writer whom I look up to! Happy National Poetry Month!