Epistolary poems - from the Latin epistle meaning a letter - have a long history. Horace wrote famous verse epistles and the form continues to be used today. BJ Ward's "Letter To Some Students Whom I May Never See Again After A Five Day Writing Workshop" from Landing In New Jersey With Soft Hands is part of a sub-genre of poems addressed to poets.
Try writing a poem addressed to a poet - perhaps a famous one, or to poets in general or, like Ward, to younger poets with advice on poetry. The salutation is sometimes part of the title, other times incorporated into the poem.
Clean your ears
of wax and waning sound
that often strains away from clamorous
scramble to be heard.
Silent solitude - your bird caught in a bramble -
is a coward's means to conquer fears.
Stillness blocks and drains away the glamorous
dreams that pandemonium intrudes
upon the drums and rolls into a tonality
shrill enough to gird itself around a gainful thought.
Empower your eyes
to peer into the dark;
then look deep into the light
that blinds most fearful ones.
In that brightly glowing spark
you'll have caught
a vision well beyond more craven sight.
At first, a flower finds its haven in the blackened earth;
but brought by imminent thirst for daylight
it bursts in duty from its night
into the beauty of sun and air.
Such a one , dear poet, you can become
when, with raven-eyes, you dare!
Use your mouth and nose
as though you chose to taste and smell
it all! Don't be squeamish,
wasting those two senses
only on perfume and palate-pleasing food.
Odor must arouse us, telling stories.
Assuming you'll re-tell them too,
I say you must inhale the fouler air as well.
It is the same with appetite.
Should you fear to take a less-than-tasty bite,
observe an infant's learning game.
A baby isn't fearful. In his thirst and hunger
and his wonder, everything's the same.
He savors it, no matter what the flavor.
Use your sense of touch
as fully as was stressed from ages past.
Fingertips are not the only stages of the craft.
You must scan the earth with body weight, and cast
about for ways to press your fullest self
upon the pages of your world.
Linger with a fast and meaty thrust
upon the textures whirled about by windy breeze;
but spend more muscle on the ancient, crusty rocks.
Stretch your thirsting body on the ever-shifting sand
that locks the ocean to the shore.
Sending your appendages to swing
over lands that others would not dare to cruise,
you must choose the routes
that spare no painful strain.
Then worm all that Matter
past the heaving, rhythmic beat of heart and lung
and deep into The lively caverns of your mind
where the keep of memory, imagination, thought resides.
There, your Spirit will rewind the Form
into ALL THAT MATTERS.
Thus, true poetry survives!
Catherine M. LeGault
I heard a poet read a poem once
about monkeys. There were so many
monkeys in the poem that it was like
he had substituted the word monkey
every time he had a noun. Everyone
in the audience laughed even though
we were confused. So I want to tell you
that if you are ever having trouble with a poem,
monkey is a good word to use.
There are other good words, too.
Here's an idea. Jazz.
Jazz can be a really cool idea to use
in a poem. There are lots of jazz players
to choose from, and a lot of them wore out
before they died. Plus, you can download
their songs from the Internet.
If you ever get to read your jazz poem out loud,
you can sort of move your shoulders
in the same rhythm.
A lot of people will tell you not to
sex poems, but I say, phooey on that.
Everybody loves a good sex poem,
just not ones about the "first time."
Nobody wants to be reminded of that.
And don't name the body parts, either.
People start thinking about death
and all the other things that can go wrong.
Maybe the world is too much with you,
or nothing can bring back the hour of splendor
in the grass, or you've loved and lost instead
of never loving at all, and found it better.
The point is to get it all down. Because the words
are monkeys. The words will swing themselves
up into a tree someplace and screech at you
until you finally go away. They've got these
tails, you see. They don't need you.
Your poem lies on my blotter
peering at me with green eyes,
glancing at my face and hands
and closing with its sighs.
Long green summer grasses
drooped by the stone wall
curled up for autumn
like your English sheepdog.
The breezes in your hair
blow shadows on your temples.
A jaded boat
set on a lacquered lake
and an artist with easel
and brocade coat on shore.
Your poem asks:
Shall we pose?
I am sitting in a square filled with yellow
wrought iron chairs.
I am a young man trying to grow a beard
and drinking a too-early glass of wine.
I am twirling the ribbon bookmarker in a volume of your poems
and trying to pull the book closer to me.
I bought the book as a birthday present to myself,
but the poems, even translated into my English,
are in some language I cannot understand.
This I recalled
when I took down the book this morning.
I looked at the still crisp binding,
the pages yellowing at the edges, and still
La blanche Ophélia flotte comme un grand lys,
waiting for me to catch her, hold her,
understand her in some new way.
I give you all the voices of the past
so that you might find your own.
I take your desire to be published
and give you one to be heard.
I ask that you tune your ear to music
and ignore those who never hear it.
I give you the rights to write badly
and still love your words,
to not want to revise at all,
and to love the poems that are rejected.
I give you the courage to share your work,
the sense to know where criticism comes from,
and I take your wish to be famous.
I ask you to buy books of poetry, even out of charity.
Go to readings and listen when no one else does.
Turn your favorite poet's books cover forward on the shelf.
Ask the store to order copies of something that's missing.
Get someone else to read poetry with you.
Get someone else to listen to you read your poetry.
Read poems aloud, even if you are alone.
Write something every day, even if it is one good line.
Tell any poet you can what you like about their words.
Throw nothing away, write late into the night,
fall asleep reading, awaken with a new line running through you
like an electric current wanting to be tapped.
My heart made a fist
when you read the others' poems.
Blood squeezed out
choking my breath
with chippy coughs.
I felt my insides flush
and vowed to quit the class.
I could never write like that.
You led me through
a labyrinth of words
where I banged against stone walls
stumbled over metaphor and rhyme
stalled in dark corners
crying out for light --
light you freely gave.
My heart made a fist
when you read my poem.
You read it once again,
looked at the class and said,
"Don't you wish that you
could write like that?"
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