Poetry Challenge Twelve: Write An Epistolary Poem


Fawn in Grass

Our 12th Challenge is upon us! The due date, serendipitously,  is July 12th 2016. On that day I’ll open a new post and we’ll share our poems in the comment section. See you then!

Albert challenges us thusly:


Make a poem that expresses a strong emotion and is addressed to a specific person. Focus on an event or circumstance associated with that person. The end product is meant to be a public expression and not just a private letting off of steam, releasing of tears, and so on. So any revision will include deleting words you would not use in your own social circles. If what you write looks and sounds like a poem but reads like a letter, you are on the right track. Word choice and tone and imagery should be governed by the real event or circumstance, whether from history , politics, culture, religion, etc. . Figures of speech are part of poetic expression and often come spontaneously, or-in the case– they could be be invented as long as they feel sincere and are in keeping with the goal. If you have trouble getting started, It may be easier to focus on a specific emotion ; e.g. anger or loss; tenderness or joy.

The two selections included, “Hey Santa,” and “Dear Bryan,” demonstrate the type of poem I am thinking of. There are notes attached to the one about loss, so readers won’t be confused by its apparently simple, “unpoetic” lines.

I recommend not using personal relationships, even though one of the sample poems does that.

Here follow the two example poems. (The notes at the end of ‘Dear Bryan’ were helpfully appended by Albert.


   -Albert Salsich

If I open a door for you,
Friend in disguise, symbol of
How far we have come,
The house fills with things (not love)–
Fake guns, games that hum
In computers. It’s true,

Your designs are dangerous.
They are meant to create
What we try to discard:
Desires that negate
Our faith. Your dream has marred
Ours through commercial success.

You make us want more,
That’s what you do
With your jingles, your lists.
Religion tells us who
We need, and how to exist,
Not what we can get from the store.

I could smile at the beard
And dig in your bag of hopes
With the rest, if I thought
You brought more than the jokes
To secretly laugh at,
Erupting in that weird

Loud-speaker roar. You stand
With your bell before banks,
Stores, the neighborhood church,
And some who join your ranks,
Wholly committed to search
For cures–rain in a dead land–

believe what salesmen say,
That Christmas is good
For business, and kids schooled
With gifts (toys) thrive. I could,
But I wouldn’t be fooled.
What you are making us pay–

It’s too much. Go away.



        -W.S. Graham (1918-86)


This is only a note
To say how sorry I am
You died. You will realize
What a position it puts
Me in. I couldn’t really
Have died for you if so
I were inclined. The carn
Foxglove here on the wall
Outside your first house
Leans with me standing
In the Zennor wind.

Anyhow how are things?
Are you still somewhere
With your long legs
And twitching smoke under
Your blue hat walking
Across a place? Or am
I greedy to make you up
Again out of memory?
Are you there at all?
I would like to think
You were all right
And not worried about
Monica and the children
And not unhappy or bored.


Speaking to you and not
Knowing if you are there
Is not too difficult.
My words are used to that.

Do you want anything?
Where shall I send something?
Rice-wine, meanders, paintings
By your contemporaries?
Or shall I send a kind
Of news of no time
Leaning against the wall
Outside your old house.

The house and the whole moor
Is flying in the mist.


I am up. I’ve washed
The front of my face

And here I stand looking
Out over the top
Half of my bedroom window.
There almost as far
As I can see,

St Buryan’s church tower.
An inch to the left, behind
That dark rise of woods,
Is where you used to lurk.


This is only a note
To say I am aware
You are not here. I find
It difficult to go
Beside Housman’s star
Lit fences without you.
And nobody will laugh
At my jokes like you.


Bryan, I would be obliged
If you would scout things out
For me. Although I am not
Just ready to start out.
I am trying to be better,
Which will make you smile
Under your blue hat.

I know I make a symbol
Of the foxglove on the wall.
It is because it knows you.

       *           *          

Selected commentaries from from http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poets/detail/w-s-graham

“[One critic, whose name is] Kessler said of Implements in Their Places [title of a collection of W.S.Graham’s poems] that ‘the roaring Graham’ *  has turned into a Graham thinking almost aloud.”  . . . that ‘there is assurance, forthrightly prosaic and grimly unillusioned, in this book of poems, the poems of a man in his late fifties. Graham everywhere acts as though he knows what he means, and how to say what he thinks with minimal means. . . . “What is the language using us for? / I don’t know. Have the words ever / Made anything of you, near a kind / Of truth you thought you were? Me Neither.” ‘ “

* Note from same source: “[The] early poems show Graham drunk with words and prodigal of images; dazed with Dylan Thomas (whom he had met in London, among the poets who congregated in Soho) and blown about with the windy rhetoric of the New Apocalypse”  (poet & critic Damien Grant)

But over the years Graham’s approach to poetry changed, mostly in style. “Grant called Graham’s final collection, ‘Implements in Their Places’ (1977) more accessible than any of his earlier work. . . . ‘Never before has Graham written as simply and directly as in the dozen or so personal poems included in this volume.’ “

Another critic said that though his themes remained the same, “What has changed is the language that uses him, as he puts it. Graham addresses friends, children, lovers, relatives, and nature in that final collection.



  1. An extra note from Albert:

    “Thinking about the challenge guidelines, I realized that they may be too restricting. For example,

    I’m having trouble getting started on a letter poem because I don’t find in myself strong feelings

    directed towards public individuals­­except sadness for mothers in the news who have lost their

    sons, policemen on the one hand and citizens on the other, through violence. But reverence and

    respect make me reluctant to address them through poetry right now. It is too soon. And I’m not

    interested in writing a political poem. I’m just not up to it. If others are, great. Lots of material


    Turning away from sadness and anger, I recognized some strong positive emotions about little

    things : birds lining up at the rim of a birdbath, flowers from our garden that bring even more

    delight mixed and arranged in a vase in the kitchen, old and young persons mingling on the

    sidewalk in front of an ice cream shack. These are persons and things I feel like writing a letter

    to, telling of my pleasure in their presence. Tomorrow I may want to write a letter of application

    for my dream job, or a letter thanking the rain, or a note apologizing to neighbor kids for not

    enjoying their antics as much as they themselves do.

    So . . . I’d like to suggest widening the range of addressees as well as the emotions that might

    inspire a letter. (You probably were going to do that anyway ­­on your own, without permission­­

    weren’t you.) Also there should be no expectation about length. The two sample poems may

    have needed their various stanzas and parts in order to adequately express what the writers

    were feeling. But it is clear that short poems, though harder to write, may convey an emotion

    more effectively and powerfully through a compressed form. Finally, July 12 is a target. No

    penalties for missing the date. Or the mark.”


    • I figured. I hoped you wouldn’t mind that I didn’t trouble to format it… it has to do with going through Google Docs and it’s very tedious to fix.


  2. I have been enjoying this challenge very much. It’s pulling something fresh out of me, a slightly more conversational and personal style, and it’s also resulted in what I believe is my longest poem for a challenge here yet. For, while I can apparently write a short poem, it seems I cannot write a short letter. 🙂 Er, regarding the range of possible addresses and moods, you were correct in surmising I at least already bent, or rather ducked, some of the guidelines. Still, permission feels nice. 😀 Looking forward to Tuesday!


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