Saturday, August 29, 2020

Prompt #359 - Letter Poems

This prompt was originally posted as Prompt #40, when the blog was fairly new, and I thought something like this would be interesting to revisit right now. I’ve changed it a bit and added a couple of ideas, relating the prompt to our current place in history.

How often do we write letters these days? That is, real letters, not emails or texts? Can a letter become a poem? Let's experiment with writing a poem/letter. The form will be similar to that of a letter (salutation, body of the letter, closing). The body of the work may be stichic (one long stanza) or may be comprised of several stanzas. You can address the letter to yourself or to someone else, and you can write about anything you choose.


1. What things might you say if were to write a letter to yourself or to someone else about what’s going on in our world right now? Jot down some ideas, or free write for a while.

2. Confront yourself. 

3. Confront something that troubles you. 

4. Write a letter about the Covid-19 pandemic. Your letter poem doesn’t have to be about the pandemic, but it’s something so uppermost in our minds at this point in time that you might find it “therapeutic” to write a letter about it. You might write a letter to yourself about your feelings, fears, anxieties. Alternatively, you might write a letter to a friend or family member, or to someone you know who contracted the virus or to someone who didn’t survive it. You might write to someone in the medical profession who has risked his or her health and life to care for Covid patients.

6. Write from the future (looking back at yourself and our times as they are now).  

7. Let your feelings guide the direction of the poem, but don’t write only about your feelings. Be sure to include things that show rather than tell how about this place in history (sheltering in place, social distancing, wearing masks).

8. Try to write in the active, not the passive, voice. To do that, it can be helpful to remove “ing” endings, and be sure to write in the present tense (this will also create a greater sense of immediacy).

9. Be on the lookout for prepositional phrases that you might remove (articles & conjunctions too).

10. As you write your letter poem, think about adjectives and which ones your poem can live without. (Often the concept is already in the noun, and you don’t need a lot of adjectives to convey your meaning.)

11. Avoid clichés (and, while you’re at it, stay away from abstractions and sentimentality).

12. Keep in mind that overstatement and the obvious should be avoided when it comes to writing poetry.

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