Epistle

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Epistle

Post by thief of dreams » Sun Jan 18, 2004 10:36 am

Poetry in Forms Series: Epistle
Article by John Hewitt
Epistle (pronounced e-PISS-ul) is a poetic form that dates back to ancient Rome and to the Bible. It is a poem written in the form of a letter. The term epistle comes from the Latin word epistola, which means letter. It was used to express love, philosophy, religion and morality.

Most people who think of epistles think of the Bible. Many of the books in the New Testament are epistles, especially the Epistles of St. Paul. The poet Robert Burns also frequently wrote epistles, as did Alexander Pope.

Over the past hundred years, as the telephone took over for letter writing, letters became less personal and more formal or business related. The concept of writing letters to relatives, friends, colleagues and lovers went out of fashion. In the past ten years, however, letter writing has had a rebirth of sorts as the Internet rose to prominence and people began to send e-mail to each other.

There are no meter or rhyme requirements for an epistle. Epistle is more a form of voice and persona. A poet can address their epistle to a real or imaginary person and express their views or take on the character of a different writer. The wonderful quality of an epistle is that it can be such a freeing form. The tone can be formal or use very personalized voices. The poems can be many pages long or as short as a post card.

Some things you should keep in mind when writing the epistle are who is writing the letter, who is the letter being written to, and how you would address that person. What would interest the writer and the recipient? How formal or informal would the writer be when addressing that person?

Below is an epistle I wrote several years ago. I think it is a good example of how fun and flexible the form can be. An epistle doesn't have to sound like a formal letter, this one actually takes the form of notes.



Notes To Shelly

1
Anyone who would give me
A Winnie-the-Pooh book for Christmas
Deserves the benefit of the doubt
Still, what will it be
To have you disappear
Don’t make it forever.

2
Got your postcard today
Read all twenty-four words
Twelve times

3
Saw Rocky Horror again tonight
And I thought about your first time
And your devirginization
Afterwards I drove under
Every overpass I could find

4
First date since you left
Took her to dinner
At the Mexican restaurant
You told me gave you food poisoning
I never told you I’d wait
But I didn’t want to take her
Anywhere I’d go with you

5
I had a feeling this morning
That I would find a letter from you
In my mailbox
You know better than I
That it was empty
That sounded bitter, didn’t it
Sorry

6
Reading Márquez
Love in the Time of Cholera
Wanted to recite to you the passage
About the ship captain and the Mannatees
Instead I read it to the palo verde in the yard
Much to Mr. Parra’s consternation
It’s important to maintain my image.

7
Ran into Maria at the mall today
We asked each other about you
Must be fun to be so mysterious and everything
Maria and I ate lunch together
She told me she’s marrying Jimmy
And she took my address
So she can send me an invitation

8
Happy Birthday
On your behalf
I spray painted the walls
Of my living room black
And splattered little specks of color all over
To make it look like space
The effect was different than I expected
I feel like I’m in one of the less exiting rides
At Disneyland

9
The invitation arrived today
John and guest
There’s nobody to take though
Dating really didn’t work out
After you left
I expect I’ll send my regrets

10
Went to the wedding after all
Because I thought somehow
You would make an appearance
It would have been a good moment
Like the mail though
The appearance didn’t come
Instead I started talking to Tammy
And we started dancing together
And drinking half the punch
She’s getting over somebody
And she said I can call any time
I won’t though

11
Called Tammy today
We got even drunker than at the wedding
And we had to walk back to my house
Where she took off her clothes
In the bathroom
And slept on the couch

12
Of course your postcard
Would arrive today
From Arkansas of all places
Your message simple
Just wanted you to know I’m alive
Don’t worry
I know

13
I didn’t answer the phone today
I sat in the living room
And watched the walls
Late in the day I decided
It’s time for me to buy a TV again

14
I repainted the living room today
My lease is up and I decided
That I didn’t want to stay here
I’ve been sending out my resume
For a couple months now
And I heard back from a company in Sacramento
It seems everybody is leaving California
Which makes it probably
The most appropriate place for me to go

15
Tammy came over last night
And this time we didn’t go drinking
And this time she didn’t sleep on the couch
This morning, just to be different
I asked her to come with me
And, just to be like you
She’s quitting her job
And jumping lease
For the first time in a long time
I know I will see you again
But then, I’ve been wrong before


This article and the accompanying poem were written by John Hewitt, Director of the Writer's Resource Center at http://www.poewar.com. John Hewitt is a writer and an information developer for IBM.
"Thoughts are the shadows of our feelings - always darker, emptier and simpler."
Friedrich Nietzsche

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