The Poetry of Letters

April 7, 2016

Did you know that there is a category of poems called “epistolary poems,” that the Academy of American Poets describes this way:  “Epistolary poems, from the Latin “epistula” for “letter,” are, quite literally, poems that read as letters. As poems of direct address, they can be intimate and colloquial or formal and measured. The subject matter can range from philosophical investigation to a declaration of love to a list of errands, and epistles can take any form, from heroic couplets to free verse.”

Because I love writing and receiving handwritten letters, I offer you one example of an epistolary poem in honor of National Poetry Month:

Letter to N.Y.
by Elizabeth Bishop

For Louise Crane

In your next letter I wish you’d say
where you are going and what you are doing;
how are the plays and after the plays
what other pleasures you’re pursuing:

taking cabs in the middle of the night,
driving as if to save your soul
where the road goes round and round the park
and the meter glares like a moral owl,

and the trees look so queer and green
standing alone in big black caves
and suddenly you’re in a different place
where everything seems to happen in waves,

and most of the jokes you just can’t catch,
like dirty words rubbed off a slate,
and the songs are loud but somehow dim
and it gets so terribly late,

and coming out of the brownstone house
to the gray sidewalk, the watered street,
one side of the buildings rises with the sun
like a glistening field of wheat.

–Wheat, not oats, dear. I’m afraid
if it’s wheat it’s none of your sowing,
nevertheless I’d like to know
what you are doing and where you are going.

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Hand-painted card and envelope for my sister

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Decorated envelope

I love embellishing my correspondence so sometimes my close friends and family get a hand-painted envelope or card with their dose of news.  I recently stumbled across a blog, The Postman’s Knock, devoted to the arts of and lettering and specially designed letters, and if you want some inspiration, please check it out.  In the meantime, here are a few more of my more recent creations:

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5 Responses to “The Poetry of Letters”

  1. Diana Studer Says:

    your friends must be honoured!


  2. really pretty !!!

  3. Carol Says:

    Your decorated notes are treasures both inside and out.

  4. shoreacres Says:

    I’m so glad you posted that poem. I had a rather different use for it, and now it’s been sent on to a friend who’s been a bit “missing” of late.

    Your cards and decorated envelopes are so lovely. And that’s a wonderful touch, to match them with stamps. It really is the details that count!


  5. […] I enjoyed writing these letters.  But had no idea that I would use some as poems, until I read, Rosemary’s Blog, where she talked about the Poetry of Letters: […]


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