It’s finally April, and you know what that means—it’s National Poetry Month! This year, the Academy of American Poets is celebrating the role of correspondence in poets’ lives and work.
As part of our own poetry month celebration, we’re hosting a contest that asks you to write a poem in the form of a letter. One grand-prize winner will receive a Moleskine notebook, a copy of Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke, and a custom-created print with a line from their winning poem, from the DomesticNotions etsy shop.
Need some inspiration? Here are four great poems by famous writers that are either written as letters or as a direct address to an audience. Read, enjoy, then get writing!
so you want to be a poet by Charles Bukowski
if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
Why we love this poem: Charles Bukowski certainly isn’t one to shy away from giving it to you straight. Who better, then, to give us some writing advice? One of our favorite things about this poem is that it’s addressed directly to the reader, which, combined with his intense language and determined tone, makes us feel extremely engaged with what Bukowski is trying to tell (yell at?) us.
The New Higher by John Ashbery
You meant more than life to me. I lived through
you not knowing, not knowing I was living.
I learned that you called for me. I came to where
you were living, up a stair. There was no one there.
Why we love this poem: This Ashbery poem is reflective, and reads like a letter that is written to an old friend or lover that the speaker hasn’t seen in a long time. Ashbery’s use of rhyme throughout the poem, though, keeps things playful despite the sadness of its content. Like any relationship, this poem is a mix of things – serious but a little bit silly at times, charming and romantic, but also thoughtful.
Ave Maria by Frank O’Hara
Mothers of America
let your kids go to the movies!
get them out of the house so they won’t know what you’re up to
Why we love this poem: Because who doesn’t want one of their favorite poets to tell their parents what’s what? Plus, the imagery in this poem is amazingly rich and plentiful. Frank O’Hara gives us candy bars, popcorn, and Saturday afternoons. He takes us to Williamsburg, the movie theater, and our childhood home – all in one poem.
Mermaid Song by Kim Adonnizio
Damp-haired from the bath, you drape yourself
upside down across the sofa, reading,
one hand idly sunk into a bowl
of crackers, goldfish with smiles stamped on.
Why we love this poem: It’s so whimsical and imaginative. The speaker imagines her daughter, hair wet from the bath, as a little mermaid. A bowl of goldfish crackers becomes a real school of fish swimming around in this scene. And, of course, there’s her daughter’s smile – a hook that lifts her up whenever’s she’s upset.
Be sure to keep up your poetry month spirit by checking out poets.org for even more wonderful poems, writing tips, and poetry-related content!