. . . .
You probably know someone who doesn't often write letters, but sits down during the winter holiday season and pens—or types—a letter, duplicates it, and sends it out to multiple friends
and family members. Holiday letters, which sometimes focus on the accomplishments
of the writer or his or her children and grandchildren, are sometimes the butt of jokes by those who
consider them bragging. Personally, I love to see my mailbox fill with
Christmas cards and letters and am a bit disappointed if a card doesn’t have at
least a small note telling me how the sender (and his or her family) is doing.
poems—poems written as letters—date back at least to Horace and Ovid at the time of the Roman Empire. It seems like an appropriate prompt for this season. Here are three
contemporary letter poems. The first is by Robin Chapman who has addressed
numerous poems to “Dear Ones.”
American Players Theatre
come from many corners
our world to this August weekend
plays and the lanterns that light our way
the hill, out of the wars and storm
this runaway century into the trials
tears of other worlds—last night
recruiting officers came through town
told the old men’s fortunes, took
young men off to war, left the girls
weep—and yesterday afternoon,
brothers, one black, one white,
South African eyes, fought
the one room that they shared.
fled the floods of microbursts—
to fifteen inches washing out roads
railroad beds, leaking through
and roofs. Under the house
stay in tonight something has died
so long ago. Sometime soon we’ll be past
tipping point of climate change,
mob of the displaced with nowhere
go, howling at the gates; or meeting
secret circles of knitters and quilters,
and artists, chronicling
some future age our terrifying tilt.
About Place Journal
of Robin Chapman’s epistolary poems was published in Ascent, Nov. 1, 2019
Guard-Chamberlin’s “Dear Coffee,” is a prose poem.
the other times I’ve tried to leave, I’ve come crawling back, but this time I mean
it, things have gone too far. Granted, I may not be thinking as clearly without
my side, but you can really get on a person’s nerves, and when I think of the
nights of high
anxiety, the stomachaches you’ve given me, my insane cravings for your strong embrace,
it’s no wonder we’ve been on-again/off-again for years.
Tea? you snort contemptuously. You’ll find no passion there! Okay, maybe
I do want to play it safe but I need a lover who treats me right, does no harm,
me into sleep, gives me room to meditate.
my darling, you old charmer, there is no one who smells as good as you first thing
in the morning, and it’s true you always make my heart beat faster, but please don’t
look at me that way you do, begging me (at my age!) to stay up and dance with
four. No, no more. Here’s your hat.
~ Gay Guard-Chamberlin
Red Thread Through a Rusty Needle (New
Wind Publishing, 2019).
following poem, from my book, Pequod
Poems: Gamming with Moby-Dick (Kelsay Books, 2019), appears in a section
entitled “Memos to Herman Melville.” Although it doesn’t start with the words, “Dear
Herman,” it is addressed to Melville.
Beginning with three lines by Lisel Mueller
careful boundaries we draw and erase,
and always, around the edges,
the opaque wash of blue—
knew these boundaries well
your childhood with a stern mother
ordered her children to sit, silent
motionless, each afternoon as she napped,
regular church attendance
and strict submission to every
chafed, too, at the boundaries of obedience
a whaler where labor was hard
the captain so tyrannical that few
the crew completed the voyage. You jumped ship
the Marquesas where Victorian standards
polite society were erased, freely enjoyed
company of naked-breasted women,
questioned the supremacy of your parents’ faith.
you returned, made a proper marriage
a judge’s daughter. Though you sometimes
those days in the south seas
a sigh, quoting to yourself the lines by the Pope:
heathen in the carnal part
Yet still a
sad good Christian at the heart,
sheltered your austere and disapproving mother
your household for years. The boundaries set
good sons, husbands, and fathers
like a noose around your neck.
you loosened the rope a bit
meeting male friends in the barn
you could smoke, share bawdy tales
toss back ale without a woman’s reprimand.
you find some peace in forbidding
to your study as you wrote,
through that porthole of a window
from your desk to Mount Greylock,
blue shadows reminding you of the sea
the freedoms you yearned for?
“Boundaries” appears in Pequod Poems: Gamming with Moby-Dick (Kelsey Books, 2019). It begins with three lines
from “Necessities,” a poem by Lisel Mueller, from her book, Second Language (Louisiana University
Press, 1986), p. 1. The quoted words from Alexander Pope are from “Epistle to a
Lady,” and can be found in The Works of
Alexander Pope (The Wordsworth Poetry Library, 2995), p. 242. Melville
slightly misquotes these lines in Chapter 46 of Omoo.
poets whose work appears on this blog own copyright to their own poems.
is author of ten books of poetry, including The Only
Home We Know (Tebot Bach, 2019), poems of our current times; Six True Things, poems about
growing up in the Manhattan Project town of Oak Ridge, Tennessee and recipient
of a Wisconsin Library Association Outstanding Achievement in Poetry Award; and
the Posner Poetry Award-winning books The Way
In and Images
of a Complex World: The Art and Poetry of Chaos (with J.C. Sprott’s
explanations and fractals). Her book The
Dreamer Who Counted the Dead received a WLA award, and her book Abundance received the Cider Press
Editors’ Book Award. She is recipient of the 2010 Helen Howe Poetry Prize from Appalachia Journal. [Bio from About Place Journal, V:IV (October 2019).
Guard-Chamberlin is a writer, performance artist and multi-media visual
artist. A graduate of Columbia College, Chicago, with a Masters in
Interdisciplinary Arts, Gay is a member of Poets & Patrons, Illinois State
Poetry Society, TallGrass Writers guild, Budlong Writers Group, North Central
Seniors Poetry Group sponsored by the Poetry Foundation, and Women on the Verge
in Kalamazoo, MI. She has taught skills as diverse as self-defense/martial arts
and paper-making to children and adults, and is a certified Interplay
instructor. Gay has worked as an office manager for an arts-in-schools organization,
a waitress, childcare provider, and caregiver for people with dementia. She
lives on the north side of Chicago with her husband, musician-artist Doug
The December Challenge:
an epistolary poem—a poem that is a letter or memo to someone or something. It
might be your holiday greetings, a letter to your parent or child, a hero
(living or dead), or . . . . Use your imagination!
poem may be free verse or formal. If you use a form, please identify the form
when you submit your poem.
your poem unless it is a form that does not use titles (don’t follow Emily
Dickinson’s practice on that!). Single-space. Note that the blog format does
not accommodate long lines; if they are used, they have to be broken in two,
with the second part indented (as in the poem “Lilith,” one of the December
2018 winners), or the post has to use small print.
may submit a published poem if you retain
copyright, but please include publication data. This applies to poems
published in books, journals, newspapers, or on the Internet. Poems already used on this blog are not eligible to win, but the poets
may submit a different poem, unless the poet has been a winner the last three
deadline is December 15. Poems submitted after the deadline will not
be considered. There is no charge to enter, so there are no monetary rewards;
however, winners are published on this blog. Please don’t stray too far from
“family-friendly” language (some children and teens read this blog). No
simultaneous submissions, please. You should know by the end of the month
whether or not your poem will be published. Decision of the judge or judges is
poet retains copyright on each poem. If a previously unpublished poem wins and
is published elsewhere later, please give credit to this blog. I do not
register copyright with the US copyright office, but by US law, the copyright
belongs to the writer unless the writer assigns it to someone else.
the same poet wins three months in a row (which has not happened thus far), he
or she will be asked not to submit the following two months.
to Submit Your Poem:
Send one poem only to
wildamorris[at]ameritech[dot]net (substitute the @ sign for “at” and a . for
“dot”). Put “December Poetry Challenge
Submission” in the subject line of your email. Include a brief bio that can be printed with your poem if you are a
winner this month. Please put your name
and bio UNDER the poem in your email. If the poem has been published
before, please put that information UNDER the poem also. NOTE: If you sent your poem to my other email
address, or do not use the correct subject line, the poem may get lost and not
be considered for publication. Do not submit poems as PdF files.
of a poem gives permission for the poem to be posted on the blog if it is a
winner, so be sure that you put your name (exactly as you would like it to
appear if you do win) at the end of
may be pasted into an email or sent as an attachment (Doc, Docx, rich text or
plain text; no pdf files, please). Please
do not indent the poem or center it on the page. It helps if you submit the poem in the format used on the blog
(Title and poem left-justified; title in bold (not all in capital letters);
your name at the bottom of the poem). Also, please do not use multiple spaces
instead of commas in the middle of lines. I have no problem with poets using
that technique (I sometimes do it myself). However I have difficulty getting
the blog to accept and maintain extra spaces.
shorter than 40 lines are generally preferred but longer poems will be