Origin stories and contemporary epistles in American prose poetry
Sedlak, Emma Adams
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My poetry portfolio is 75 pages long, and consists of single poems as well as two series. The first series includes the ‘Good Work’ poems, which explore different ideas of ‘good work’ based on characters’ occupations, preoccupations and mental perspectives. The second series is the ‘Makar’ poems, depicting an imagined world in which the poet is a guardian angel or guiding force. The style of my poetry varies from lyric to prose poetry, with a few language-focused abstract poems, and more formal styles, like a villanelle. Dreaming and waking are two themes that reflect aspects of reality and perception. Much of my portfolio is rooted in reflections of identity: Identity in terms of work, and the story we tell to the world about what we do; identity in terms of inter-personal relationships and how those connections form who we become; identity in terms of memory, and the story of who we have been; and identity in terms of the stories we tell ourselves about who we think we are. And if none of those stories align, what kind of fragmented self-identity does that reveal? The narrative poems often use different characters and personas in order to enact these lenses of identity. Even with only a few epistles in the collection, my poetry has been influenced by the epistolary ideas of separation and reunion (as critic Altman describes them: ‘bridge’ and ‘distance’). Similarly, the prose poems often riff on the unification and distancing of various themes, in a mediation of together- and apart-ness. I have used letters and diary-entries as addresses to the audience, and also as invitations for the reader to access the poem through different points of entry. My academic thesis focuses on the utilisation of epistles in contemporary American prose poetry. It is 26,000 words, and is divided into three sections: focused on Epistles: Poems by Mark Jarman; Letters to Kelly Clarkson by Julia Bloch, and The Desires of Letters by Linda Brown; and Dear Editor: Poems by Amy Newman. Why are we still writing poems as letters when we don’t habitually write letters for personal correspondence anymore? The poem-as-letter, or epistle, offers the ability to craft complex relationships within the reader/author, writer/recipient, and open/closed dynamics of intimacy in literature. The criticism is framed within the methodology of reader-response theory, and draws upon examples of epistles in history and literature to connect and establish themes.