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An ode to the personal letter March 10, 2010

Posted by Emily in a few of my favorite things.
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“An elegy is a mournful, melancholic or plaintive poem, especially a funeral song or a lament for the dead.” – Wikipedia

Although I have been somewhat neglectful of letter writing lately, I’m now trying to get back into it – a goal which is helped enormously by the coming of spring and summer, as few things make me happier than sitting on the front porch after work, sun shining, birds chirping, cold beer leaving a condensation ring on the wood, and settling in with a good pen to write to a thought-of friend.

Because I value mail and especially hand-written letters more than most things, I was struck by this poem, sent to me the other day by my cousin Megan. This is my reaction when peeking in the mailbox reveals a letter addressed to me – all else falls away. But because I still have hope for letters, I’ve decided that perhaps this should be an ode, rather than an elegy.

Elegy for the Personal Letter

by Allison Joseph

I miss the rumpled corners of correspondence,
the ink blots and crossouts that show
someone lives on the other end, a person
whose hands make errors, leave traces.
I miss fine stationary, its raised elegant
lettering prominent on creamy shades of ivory
or pearl grey. I even miss hasty notes
dashed off on notebook paper, edges
ragged as their scribbled messages—
can’t much write now—thinking of you.
When letters come now, they are formatted
by some distant computer, addressed
to Occupant or To the family living at
meager greetings at best,
salutations made by committee.
Among the glossy catalogs
and one time only offers
the bills and invoices,
letters arrive so rarely now that I drop
all other mail to the floor when
an envelope arrives and the handwriting
is actual handwriting, the return address
somewhere I can locate on any map.
So seldom is it that letters come
That I stop everything else
to identify the scrawl that has come this far—
the twist and the whirl of the letters,
the loops of the numerals. I open
those envelopes first, forgetting
the claim of any other mail,
hoping for news I could not read
in any other way but this.

“Elegy for the Personal Letter” by Allison Joseph, from My Father’s Kites. © Steel Toe Books, 2010.

(via The Writer’s Almanac)



1. deanjbaker - March 10, 2010

good to see this

2. Claudio - March 25, 2010

Va a karma el solguajiro

3. becky - May 5, 2010

OH, I’m with you, I used to be such a good pen pal with my friends, and it was fun doodling, throwing funny things into the envelope, stocking cool stamps, and looking forward to the mailman’s arrival. Now when I hear him at the mailbox, I fill with dread at the bills and junk I’ll have to bring into my house, basically unsolicited!

While an email gives instant gratification, I long for letters and stationary and postmarks!

4. ayearofletters - May 13, 2010

I couldn’t agree with you more. Letters are wonderful; and I love everything about them – the paper, the ink, the stamps, the handwriting and most of all the content.

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