March 31, 2015

Prompt: Epistles to the Poets

It is National Poetry Month 2015 in America. The Academy of American Poets has many special features on its website for this month. One is called "Dear Poet." It is a multimedia education project that invites young people in grades five through twelve to write letters in response to poems written and read by some of the award-winning poets who serve on their Board of Chancellors.

Poets Online asks you this month to join the students. You can read and watch a group of poets reading and discussing their poems. The students are being asked to write letters to the poets to express their thoughts, ideas, or ask any questions they may have about the poems. I wonder why they didn't ask students to write poems to the poets - which is what we we will do.

Epistles, or epistolary poems, comes from the Latin “epistula” for “letter," are poems that read as letters. As poems of direct address, they can be intimate and colloquial or formal and measured.

On our main site, the prompt includes two of the poems and poets from Dear Poets. One is Naomi Shihab Nye's "How Do I Know When A Poem Is Finished?" which itself is addressed to someone - perhaps a student who has asked the poet that question, though all poets ask that question to themselves.

The second example and video is for Edward Hirsch's poem "Cotton Candy" which looks back to the candy and a grandfather.

What would you write to Nye or Hirsch about their poems?

Our prompt is much wider. You can choose any poem on the Academy site or any poem at all. The only requirement is that you address the poet by name and that you include the title of the poem you are responding to in the poem.

Your poem might be titled "Dear Mr. Hirsch" or Dear Elizabeth" for a poem to Elizabeth Bishop, whose own epistle "Letter to N.Y." begins:
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
I might write to W. B. Yeats during this Easter week 2015 about his poem "Easter 1916" to let him know that this year:
I am sitting at the start of day
looking out the window
at my desk at a sky gray
above twenty-first century homes
that I have passed on my way,
like you, nodding and saying
polite meaningless words...