April 5, 2016

Prompt: In your next letter,

A Lady Writing by Johannes Vermeer, 1665
The Latin “epistula,” for “letter," led to epistolary poems, which are poems that read as letters.

They can be to an internal or external audience, to a named or an unnamed recipient or to the world at large, intimate or not, to abstract concepts or real people. The epistles can use any form or free verse. It's a type of poem with much freedom.

Elizabeth Bishop’s “Letter to N.Y.," uses rhyming quatrains and 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:

Bishop's poem came back to me when I read "In your next letter," from Cause for Concern (Able Muse Press, 2015) by Carrie Shipers when it was featured recently on The Writer's Almanac.

Shipers poem uses Bishop's opening for its title and then goes on to say:
                                             please describe
the weather in great detail. If possible,
enclose a fist of snow or mud,

everything you know about the soil,
how tomato leaves rub green against
your skin and make you itch, how slow

the corn is growing on the hill.
Thank you for the photographs
of where the chicken coop once stood,

clouds that did not become tornadoes.

This month we'll be writing epistles, which date back to verse letters of the Roman Empire, and was refined and popularized by Horace and Ovid.

You may want to use the conventions of a letter, as Langston Hughes does in his “Letter," which begins:
Dear Mama
Time I pay rent and get my food
and laundry I don’t have much left
but here is five dollars for you.

You can certainly be creative in your use or abuse of letter writing forms and conventions.

Submissions to this prompt are due: Sunday, May 1, 2016

More on Carrie Shipers at www.carrieshipers.com


  1. I am looking for the entire poem by Carrie.Snipers thanks.

  2. I want the entire poem please.

  3. Just click the title link and like magic - the poem!
    WE don't have the permissions to use the entire poem for Poets Online


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