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This article is taken from PN Review 235, Volume 43 Number 5, May - June 2017.

Dear Epistle Anna Jackson
FIRST PRIZE in the 2015 Pen America Prison Writing Competition went to a poem called ‘Dear Voyage’, by Brian Batchelor, a prisoner serving a life-sentence without parole.1 Letter-writing has long been important to prisoners, and poets writing from prison have often figured their poems as letters; Richard Lovelace’s ‘To Althea’ proclaims his freedom to love equal to the liberty of angels.2 Batchelor’s poem looks to a more final liberty, the voyage out of life itself.  If Lovelace’s poem proclaims all the world a world of liberty, so that even a prisoner is free within his prison cell so long as he lives and loves, Batchelor’s poem proclaims life itself a prison. ‘Dear crusted gravestone,’ he addresses his final destination, ‘Dear lichen / Dear vine, Dear dirt / ditch and spade […]’ It is an eerie and moving poem, and it is hardly surprising that the judges recognised the power of its tender address to an ‘anchorless and adrift’ voyage, the ‘Dear hunched horizon’ ahead, the ‘looming dark’. The use of the word ‘Dear’ to give a poem a particular charge has been a significant strategy in contemporary poetry; Batchelor’s ‘Dear Voyage’ must have stood out not only for its originality, power and strangeness, but for its knowing use of one of the most significant of contemporary poetry moves.  

To consider what the word ‘Dear’ is bringing to poetry today, I want to begin with a poem by Emily Berry, whose work I first encountered in an anthology of new poetry entitled Dear World and Everyone In It, and whose poem ‘Letter to Husband’ appears in her second ...


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