Dear Ms. Nelson,

My name is Sophie and I am a senior in Santa Monica, California. This year, in my AP Literature and Composition class, we have studied multiple poets and their works, and read two novels. The poets we have read include Rita Dove, Denise Levertov, Christina Rossetti and Joy Harjo. We are currently reading and discussing the ending of Moby Dick, having covered The Fountainhead first semester. Throughout the year, I connected with each poem and novel in a different and interesting way.

I was attracted to your poem, “Thompson and Seaman Vows, African Union Church,” because I wrote a letter to you last year for the Dear Poet event concerning my reaction to your earlier poem “The Continental Army.” The first thing that struck me upon listening to your poem was how you enunciated every word and took the time to pause. This allowed me to see that every sentence was packed with detail and gave profound insight into the life of the soon-to-be couple. This poem also accurately depicts the everyday life of those living in the mid-19th century. The bride’s job as a teacher in “Colored School #3” and her education through “productions of Macbeth and Richard III,” as well as both the bride and groom’s family history in slavery illustrates the customs of that age. It is interesting that in wedding vows of the time one’s family history, education, and occupation are mentioned, but nothing of a romantic sense is included. After reading this poem, I feel like I know the couple who is going to be married and what aspects of a person’s life were important for marriage during that time.

After listening to your poem, I have some questions about the life of a poet and your career. First, how did you become interested in poetry, especially poetry set in a certain historical context, and when did you decide that you wanted to focus a main part of your life on poetry? Next, what is the best environment for you to write in? Do you have a set schedule, or just write when you feel inspired? Lastly, why would you encourage someone else to explore poetry or become a poet?


Grade 12
Santa Monica, CA

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