I’m noticing a theme with poetry. The different forms all have these lovely complicated names that give you no idea of what they’re actually for. Why is that? Personally, I think poets are just trying to punk us. Epistle poetry is a great example, because it just means a poem in the form of a letter.
Epistle poetry comes from the Roman Empire, and was made popular by Horace. Many are intimate, sent to one person, and are often love letters. But I found this really great one by Elizabeth Bishop that just caught me by surprise.
Letter to N.Y.
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.
I love the beat of this poem. The subject matter seems to say, without saying, that she wishes Louise would come home, and that she’s not sure she’s safe there in New York, as it seems a very foreign place to her.
So this week, try writing an epistal poem.
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