Saturday, January 22, 2011

Poetry Prompt #40 - A Letter to Myself

How often do we write letters these days? That is, real letters, not emails? Can a letter become a poem?

For this prompt, let's experiment with writing a poem/letter. The form will be similar to that of a letter.  The body of the work may be stichic (one long stanza) or may be composed of several stanzas. Alternatively, you might write yourself a memo, or you might write a letter to someone else (see Renee Ashley's example below).

What things might you say in a letter or memo to yourself? 
What's uppermost or most hidden in your mind?
What things have happened to you that you've thought, but never written, about? 

Some things to consider:

Confront yourself. 
Confront something that troubles you. 
Confront your feelings about a relationship. 
Congratulate, comfort, forgive yourself. 
Focus on the present or perhaps on a challenging time in your life.
Write from the perspective of your childhood, or write from the future (looking back at yourself as you are now).  


  1. Wonderful idea! This type of writing is sometimes used as a technique in counseling.

    I especially like the Renee Ashley poem you cite as an example.

    Keep the prompts coming, Adele!

    Máire Ó Cathail (Ireland)

  2. Something interesting about Emily Dickinson: "Letter Poem, A Dickinson Genre."

    See also:

  3. I love this idea and have written a letter poem that's too personal to post - but writing it was very healing! Thank you!


  4. Hi Adele,

    I was working with this prompt and remembered William Butler Yeats's great poem "A Dialogue of Self and Soul." It isn't a letter poem, but the sense of it is similar to what you've asked us to try this week. I love the last three lines:

    We must laugh and we must sing,
    We are blest by everything,
    Everything we look upon is blest.


  5. The Yeats poem that Jamie mentions is brilliant. Here's a url for anyone who'd like to read it.

  6. Thanks, Maire! Glad you enjoyed the Ashley poem. She's a great poet!

  7. Thanks so much, Bob's Mustangs. The Dickinson material is great!

  8. Jamie! So interesting that you thought of the Yeats poem. I did too when I was working on this prompt. Thanks for your comment.

  9. Thanks much, Bob.Fiorellino, for the "A Dialogue of Self and Soul" url. Such a brilliant poem by one of my favorite poets.

  10. Excellent ideas--I'll be teaching the letter poem soon so I appreciate this.

  11. Thanks so much, Miriam! I'm delighted to hear that the ideas will be useful in your teaching!


  13. I Have His Letters Still

    When I was young
    they were kept in a shoebox.
    Then, in late middle age,
    in an old leather correspondence case,
    found at a flea market,
    kept in the bottom desk drawer.

    Handwritten in flowing cursive script
    by original Lewis Waterman pen
    point dipped in a well
    the fountain of personal essence
    the blue flowed with emotion
    like the waters of life.

    Soul captured not by Lucifer
    but by the fiber of the paper
    crafted in Egypt along the Nile
    history nested so deeply between the reeds
    weaved invisibly
    between the threads of papyrus.

    The envelope, self-sealed in a meticulous way
    with wax, monogrammed
    engraved so beautifully on the back,
    The Steamboat Savannah stamp
    hand canceled – May 24, 1944
    a distinctive ink which marked its journey
    as would a traveler his journal
    from South Carolina to Baptistown, NJ.

    I treasure this letter, and its envelope.
    When I pick it up and read
    I feel him rising
    through the warmth of the words,
    grasping my hand…
    this post saved in the attic of my memories.

    While I have other poets today
    their presence I see just fleetingly
    on the computer screen,
    my palm touch against the monitor
    only makes work for me
    with Windex.

    Though a friend taught me about the “Save” button
    I feel as if I have saved nothing, and lost much
    each time I push/click -
    their correspondence lost –
    in impersonal set aside.

    Why time took this treasured means of human discourse
    there is no answer.
    Does it have no sense of history -
    Upon my death, for what
    will they use my leather satchel?

    Thankfully -- I have his letters still.

    Ray Brown

  14. Ray! The title poem from your book! Thanks so much for sharing it with us.