The epistle is a poetic form I am enamored of. I come to know it first through biblical epistles, those madcap New Testament letters to fledgling communes. But I found it again in Richard Hugo’s book 31 Letters and 13 Dreams, a book that was criticized in ’77 when it was released -- for being too chatty or something absurd. The dream poems in the book I don’t love, but a handful of the letter poems I adore. There is one, Letter to Simic from Boulder, that you must read. It is as strong an anti-war piece as any I know, without any liberal haughtiness. Do it.
Another poet I’m friends with, Matt Hart, loves Hugo’s epistolary poems like I do. He writes them to his loved ones as Hugo does, and sometimes the technique of address lands in his published work. His most recent book, Debacle Debacle, includes this poem I’ve heard him read recently to great effect. Might just be because I have a super tender soft spot for poems about fathers and daughters, but I treasure it. I reproduce it here, for you: it’s proof that documenting the details of a day can be deeply pleasureable and is worthwhile; doing it for someone you love, more so.
This form seems to me a way of curing an aspect of contemporary poetry I despise, which is this seedy brand of intellectual aloofness. It’s for prigs. You’re not a philosopher or a scientist, you’re a poet, and philosophers largely make shitty poets because they’re always trying to find an pseudo-scientific or Wittgensteinian stance. Be biased, have some personality. It’s human anyway, and your poems will be worlds more interesting.
Go write a letter-poem to someone you love. Or someone you hate. Those are good epistles, too.
*TO YOU AT FORTY FROM ME RIGHT NOW
You are four and I am forty, and it is Friday at 4:40
in September, 2010. I have been waiting
for this moment to tell you some things,
or maybe this moment has been waiting for me.
It’s hard to know much of anything, but
everything seems in perfect alignment,
and I am not one to argue with perfection
when I can find it, though I do take issue with the way
things seem. Here is a grain of salt for you
to take me. The two of us kicking a ball in the yard.
This morning we were running late, and when you couldn’t
find your rabbit, you cried, so I helped you look for her,
but then I couldn’t find her either. You took a pony
to school to show your friends instead
and I came back to a mountain of work
and looking some more for your rabbit.
Another cup of black coffee. Another list to check off
this lucky and frustrating life, this stressed-out every second,
this incredible constant scribble. At breakfast
you made a drawing for me, and we talked about expression.
I showed you pictures in a Cy Twombly monograph.
You said those are just like “me” and then
one of the sculptures you compared to the bones
in your arm, and I thought of dinosaurs, but didn’t
bring it up, and when I showed you the Basquiat drawings,
you pointed to one with a coal black face, “That’s me
when I’m angry” and a few pages later
you were tickled by a “monster” with “one pink ear
colored pink.” “Why is that one pink,” you asked, and I said
because expressive works aren’t necessarily about the way
things look, but about the way the artist feels and thinks.
You made another drawing with bright fast strokes.
Rabbit exploding with a runway tongue, devil-blue devil
in a suit with a contract. Everything happens so fast
I can’t take it. Yesterday is already tomorrow and the next day.
The grass and the leaves on the trees stay green,
and then suddenly it’s Halloween, it’s July, I’m in China.
You’re in Martha’s Vineyard. You’re at Kings Island.
If you’re reading this poem, I am seventy-six, or maybe I am not.
You miss me or I miss you, or we miss each other,
even in the midst of being together. It is always this way
with people. Call me right away when you get this.
To You at Forty from Me Right Now is from Debacle, Debacle, on H_NGM_N Books, 2013.