Dear Mr. Doty,

Your piece, “Brian Age Seven,” resonated with me the most out of all. I felt as if I myself were Brian, happily crafting a self portrait to hang up on the bleak walls of a pharmacy with no fear in the world. On the other hand, I also felt as if I were the speaker of the poem, zoning in on a child’s portrait that stood out to me and seriously delving into a deeper meaning of it all. This poem made me realize how something so seemingly insignificant at first glance, like a child’s drawing, could make someone think hard and never forget them.

While listening, I began to reminisce about my childhood days, yearning once again for the carefree and stress free attitude I once possessed. I recalled my own self portraits with their thick black lines and impossible smiles literally from ear to ear (if I remembered to draw ears). I could even picture the blinding yellow sun in the right hand corner, the skinny strip of blue sky across the top, the sparse lines of thin green grass along the bottom, and v birds in the formation of a v soaring through the clouds that seemed to be a little too close to the ground.

Thinking about kid’s art and art in general, made me realize how impactful it can truly be. Art is a chance to tell a story, to pack a thousand words into one image, to leave interpretation up to the audience. In your poem, I personally interpreted Brian’s drawing as a way for him to express how and what he sees himself as. To me, the audience, it displayed his naiveness. The last few lines especially led me to think of how when Brian grows older and grows out of stick figures, he might no longer be thrilling with life or possessing nervous energy or have a smile that reaches the rim of his face or even be holding a towering ice cream cone. Or maybe he still might be, who knows what the future may hold?

“Brian Age Seven” possesses a flow, rhythm, and steady beat that is pleasing to listen to. I greatly appreciate the style in which it is written and how the introduction sets the scene, the middle brings it to life, and the conclusion ties the whole piece up in a thought provoking way that leaves the reader demanding to know more. I especially enjoy the simile made where the ice cream is compared to a flag of Brian’s own country. This image invokes a sense of pride and loyalty in him. But what does he have pride and loyalty in? Pleasure and delight?

This poem touched my heart and left me feeling joyful and saddened at the same time. As I think about them more, I do not know what to make of Brian or the speaker, as there could be so many interpretations of them. However I do know that whoever they are, you have breathed life into them and filled them with feeling and emotion. And for that, I thank you.

Milwaukee, WI

Dear Afiya,

What a great letter, thank you! You strike me as exactly the sort of reader I hope for, and I’ll tell you why. You are willing to meet the poem on its own terms, to take the words and images and allow them to enter your awareness, savoring them and letting them sink in. In our culture we get used to reading in a hurry, trying to get information, study for a test or whatever it is we need at the moment. Poetry resists hurry, and invites us to daydream, to bring our own memories and experiences to bear on the text as we read. I like the way you don’t hurry to find a meaning in the poem, or try to wrap the experience up in a neat package. Instead, you take time to remember your own childhood, and the pictures you used to draw—and in doing so, you describe exactly what Brian’s drawing was like!

I’m also so pleased that you allow the poem to suggest some meanings to you—perhaps that Brian no longer feels as alive as he did when he drew that picture, or perhaps that his childhood pride was a pride in pleasure. But you don’t try to nail the poem down to one interpretation. It would be so boring to do that! I like poems that point to something like a zone of meaning, a territory of consideration. When you write about the ways you could think about my poem, or the questions it leads you to ask, that’s just what I want to happen: you’re meditating with me about some questions that matter to me, ones I think reach beyond just Brian’s drawing. You and I are having a kind of conversation, even though my poem has to stand in for me.

So let me tell you a little about how this poem came to be. I was living in a small town, and every day when I walked to the post office or the coffee shop I’d pass the town pharmacy. One week their windows displayed drawings by local kids who’d been there for a field trip. They were fun to look at, but Brian’s drawing really caught my eye, and for some reason I didn’t know resonated in my imagination. I started writing a description of it, thinking about the way he made a body just out lines. His smile was huge, and the arm holding up his many-scooped ice cream cone was just a black crayon line. Soon I discovered I was using Brian’s drawing both to describe my delight in his art and to think about how fragile and perishable our bodies are, the bodies that are the source of so much happiness. I think the poem dwells in the combination of joy and sadness you felt reading it. And that’s another thing that makes you a fine reader of poetry: you understand how we often have such contradictory, layered emotions. Do human beings ever feel just one thing at a time?

I’m not sure of the answer to that, but I am sure that I feel happy to count you as a reader.

Mark Doty

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