Dear Mr. Mark Doty,
Hello, my name is Menglin. And I truly enjoyed your reading of “Brian Age Seven” and the poem itself. I chose to write to you, not purely because this is an assignment for my Creative Writing Class, but because your description of the element of so many people’s childhoods evoked such nostalgia in me—the nostalgia being for the joy that comes from using those big crayons and holding them as if you were stabbing the paper. I loved how the tone of the poem, which also resonated through your reading, was of admiration, not for the young innocence pointed out so many times before, but for the raw energy that Brian has graced upon the paper. That echoes again in my favorite line, “He breathes here, on his page,” which gives a sense that the self-portrait is very much a reflection of the maker and a little more. But after reading and listening to the poem, I was wondering about the last line, “He’s frail beside his relentless standard,” because I interpreted it as that Brian in his young age is young and not fully refined but unbound. I was wondering how you wanted your readers to interpret it.
I just want to echo my appreciation of your poem and reading. Thank you in advance for taking the time to read this and hopefully answer my question.
Thank you for reading my poem so attentively! I enjoyed hearing about the way you let yourself participate in the poem imaginatively, which is exactly what I hope my readers will do. When you write about “the joy that comes from using those big crayons and holding them as if you were stabbing the paper” I know that you just completely get it, the wonderful physicality of childhood, that fierce creative energy. And you’re absolutely right, it’s not Brian’s innocence but his raw energy that I responded to when I saw his drawing. That’s what makes his picture seem alive. I’m pleased that “He breathes here, on his page” is your favorite line. I like that one too, and I made it one sentence all to itself on the line to make it stand out.
It’s fun to think about self-portraits and how much they reveal. Brian’s drawing is all smile and ice cream. You can see what the important part of his field trip was for him! But I was struck too by those thin black crayon lines, the way he barely gave himself a body. Brian’s self-portrait reveals much about him, but when I describe it I am not only describing the picture but showing something about about myself as well. For Brian, the important things are the many scoops of delicious ice cream. What struck me, maybe because I’m a person much older than Brian, or because of circumstances in my life, was how fragile the little body that was holding that huge ice cream seemed.
I want to show you Brian’s vibrant, delightful drawing in my poem, but I want to think a little too about how human beings are always wanting. Do we ever get enough ice cream? Have you ever listened to your favorite song enough times?
We often can’t really keep up with the scale of our desires. Our poor bodies get tired, or full, or sick, or age. That’s why the energy of this poem, the fun and exuberance of Brian’s drawing, sits beside a certain sadness. I don’t want the sadness to cancel out the delight; they’re both here in the poem, and for me they’re both true.
Thank you again! Nothing could be better for poets than to know that readers are taking our work in, thinking and feeling with it. I hope you continue reading poetry.