About Image

Talk to Me in Letters


By Alissa Wilkinson

Dearest Cal: Please never stop writing me letters—they always manage to make me feel like my higher self (I’ve been re-reading Emerson) for several days.
— Elizabeth Bishop to Robert Lowell, July 27, 1960

Dearest Elizabeth: I think of you daily and feel anxious lest we lose our old backward and forward flow that always seems to open me up and bring color and peace.
— Robert Lowell to Elizabeth Bishop, March 10, 1963

My office bookshelves are segregated topically, and one entire shelf is devoted to books of letters between writers. Most are towering mid-century literary figures about whose lives I obsess like one might Facebook-stalk a crush, looking for new bits of information or examining the edges of pictures for other famous people lurking in the blurry background.

There’s the correspondence of Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, the missives Simone de Beauvoir sent Jean-Paul Sartre, decades of letters between Mary McCarthy and Hannah Arendt, others between Eudora Welty and William Maxwell, the love letters Vladimir Nabokov sent his wife Vera, stacks more.

Obviously I’m not alone in this: Carlene Bauer wrote Frances and Bernard, a fictionalized correspondence (and entirely fictional romance) between characters modeled on Lowell and Flannery O’Connor, who met at Yaddo in 1948. I have my students review the book every term, purely for my grading pleasure. [Read more...]

The Tyrannical Self-Gaze

5516869922_016eaf4251_zBy Elizabeth Duffy

I’m doing most of my walking after dark these days as night comes a little earlier. Night walking always makes me feel lighter, almost weightless, so it seems like I’m walking faster than I do in daylight, and since the scenery no longer differentiates one day’s walk from another, my thoughts are in a tunnel. I’m ageless and united in memory and feeling with almost every dark walk I’ve ever taken.

Tonight that weightless feeling, which somehow never blesses me in daylight, reminded me of being about fourteen years old, “running away,” barefoot, in the dark. I’d slammed the door on my way out, not taking time to assess my readiness for a new life on the go, nor the environment into which I was fleeing. Turned out it was raining.

But I did succeed literally at running away, up on the balls of my bare feet. I remember feeling like a gazelle, and somehow all the little pebbles that gather on the side of the road didn’t hurt. I ran about three miles, and then I ran back home, pumped up on romance and adrenaline, only to find out that no one had worried about me, which was disappointing.

In hindsight, the experience of no one worrying about me—because I really was always fine—has been one of my life’s hallmarks and great letdowns. [Read more...]

Poetry Friday: “George Herbert on the Road to Salisbury” by William Wenthe

Each Friday at Good Letters we feature a poem from the pages of Image, selected and introduced by one of our writers or readers.

I love William Wenthe’s “George Herbert on the Road to Salisbury” for many reasons. It is, of course, a tribute from a contemporary poet to one of the greatest poets in the English language—the seventeenth century “Metaphysical” poet who was also an Anglican pastor, as Wikipedia puts it, “of the small rural parish of Fugglestone St. Peter with Bemerton, near Salisbury in Wiltshire.” (What’s not to love about “Fugglestone St. Peter?”) The scene Wenthe depicts is as simple as it could be: the poet-pastor encounters a man on the road whose horse has “fallen under its load.” The pastor conveys a message of compassion to the man, asking him to be merciful to the beast if he “loved himself,” but he doesn’t stop there; he puts his shoulder to work helping the man get himself and his horse sorted out. Wenthe places us directly in the scene by asking us to image what it sounded like: the simple music of rope and wicker and two grunting men. In short, the poet-pastor puts charity into action, making a poem of the encounter. An act of grace, a tuning of human instruments to the music of charity.

—Gregory Wolfe


George Herbert on the Road to Salisbury” by William Wenthe

That if he loved himself
he should be merciful
to his beast: the gist
of what Herbert said
to the man whose horse had
“fallen under its load.” [Read more...]

Poetry Friday: “Mixed Company” by Brett Foster

lastsupperEach Friday at Good Letters we feature a poem from the pages of Image, selected and introduced by one of our writers or readers.

The much-beloved poet and teacher Brett Foster passed away earlier this week and so I’d like to dedicate “Poetry Friday” to his memory. Image published quite a few of Brett’s poems and the one I’ve chosen to talk about is “Mixed Company.” I chose it because while many of Brett’s poems exemplify an elegant formalism (in part deriving from his deep knowledge of Renaissance literature), this one shows him to be in a more informal, colloquial mood. With its short lines and dramatic soliloquy form, “Mixed Company” offers a vivid glimpse into the second chapter of the gospel of Mark. Like those medieval or Renaissance paintings that placed biblical stories in contemporary settings, this poem begins by talking about a coffee shop. There’s some fun as Brett plays with the meaning of the poem’s title (and don’t you just love “the ‘meh’ of our behaviors / or consistent confusions”?). Having disoriented us with the coffee shop reference, Brett suckers us in to the perspective of one of the disciples, who is grateful for the way Jesus accepts him (and his fellow “sinners”). The speaker realizes that something Jesus has told them might be considered insulting, but instead he finds it liberating. In Brett’s deft handling, simple language gains unexpected resonance and power: “I found / myself happy to be allowed /
to stay there.” I believe Brett did find a place to “stay” on this earth and I trust that he’s found it even more truly now.


—Gregory Wolfe

“Mixed Company” by Brett Foster

Mark 2

Meaning, not the fey name
of a coffee shop cheekily named,
but me and the sinners
(not “mixed” as in unlike things
commingling, but rather
the “meh” of our behaviors
or consistent confusions,
contradictions like breaking
news ongoing, over and over
with little new to report…)
as I was saying, me and sinners
and tax collectors, resorting
to the healer’s home most nights
since Levi from the tollbooth
introduced us all. That one night
he delicately explained how lately
the holier-than-thous
who police our community
were increasingly complaining
of our all hanging out.
We half expected to be gently
asked to leave at that point.
I mean, I think we would
have mainly understood it.
You’ll appreciate with me, then,
how surprised and pleased
we felt that this wasn’t
the case or the result
of his telling us this, not
at all. “It’s sick people who need
a doctor, not healthy ones,”
he said, smiling. Thinking
of it now, it’s sort of insulting,
but that’s not how we heard it.
They were comforting
words instead, and I found
myself happy to be allowed
to stay there, just nodding,
nodding vigorously,
at the sound of those words.


Brett Foster is the author of two poetry collections, The Garbage Eater (Triquarterly /Northwestern) andFall Run Road, which was awarded Finishing Line Press’s 2012 Open Chapbook Prize. A third collection,Extravagant Rescues, is forthcoming. His writing has appeared in Books & Culture, Boston Review, Hudson Review, Kenyon Review, Poetry Daily, Raritan, Southwest Review, and Yale Review. He teaches creative writing and Renaissance literature at Wheaton College.

Poetry Friday: “Canticle of Want” by Marjorie Stelmach

hawkEach Friday at Good Letters we feature a poem from the pages of Image, selected and introduced by one of our writers or readers.

I like a poem to surprise me, and Marjorie Stelmach’s “Canticle of Want” (Image issue 86)  is full of the unexpected. Recently I’ve been praying St. Francis’s famous “Canticle”: “All praise be yours, My Lord, through all that you have made.” But Stelmach’s initial address to the Lord is far from praise; it lists images of a nature that’s worn down, stunted, in ruin. Then later there’s this shock: “No one doubts who owns the heavens: // American drones…” The overall longing of the poem—its “want”—is for a Lord whose “good intentions” we can believe in, a Lord we can feel in tune with. But the closing lines suggest that our mortality separates us permanently from the “Lord, whose name is Everlasting.” There’s more, too, in the poem that keeps pulling me into it: the base iambic pentameter beat over which alliteration intones, while the “want” (as both verb and noun) pulses its yearning.

—Peggy Rosenthal

[Read more...]