Draft of a Letter

Paperback | April 1, 2007

byJames Longenbach

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From Second Draft:

What other people learn

From birth,


I learned late.

My soul perched

On an olive branch

Combing itself,

Waving its plumes.  I said

Being mortal,

I aspire to

Mortal things.

I need you,

Said my soul,

If you’re telling the truth.

Draft of a Letter is a book about belief—not belief in the unknowable but belief in what seems bewilderingly plain. Pondering the bodies we inhabit, the words we speak, these poems discover infinitude in the most familiar places. The revelation is disorienting and, as a result, these poems talk to themselves, revise themselves, fashioning a dialogue between self and soul that opens outward to include other voices, lovers, children, angels, and ghosts. For James Longenbach, great distance makes the messages we send sweeter. To be divided from ourselves is never to be alone. “If the kingdom is in the sky,” says the body to the soul, “Birds will get there before you.” “In time,” says the awakening soul, “I liked my second / Body better / Than the first.” To live, these poems insist, is to arise every day to the strange magnificence of the people and places we thought we knew best. Draft of a Letter is an unsettled and radiant paradiso, imagined in the death-shadowed, birth-haunted middle of a long life.

Praise for Fleet River

“A sensibility this cogent, this subtle and austere is rare; even rarer is its proof that poetry still flows through all things and transforms all things in the process.”—Carol Muske-Dukes, Los Angeles Times Book Review

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From the Publisher

From Second Draft:What other people learnFrom birth,Betrayal,I learned late.My soul perchedOn an olive branchCombing itself,Waving its plumes.  I saidBeing mortal,I aspire toMortal things.I need you,Said my soul,If you’re telling the truth.Draft of a Letter is a book about belief—not belief in the unknowable but belief in what seems be...

James Longenbach is the Joseph Henry Gilmore Professor of English at the University of Rochester. He is the author, most recently, of The Resistance to Poetry and Fleet River, both published by the University of Chicago Press.

other books by James Longenbach

The Virtues of Poetry
The Virtues of Poetry

Kobo ebook|Mar 5 2013


Modern Poetry after Modernism
Modern Poetry after Modernism

Paperback|Aug 1 1997


see all books by James Longenbach
Format:PaperbackDimensions:64 pages, 8.5 × 6.13 × 0.3 inPublished:April 1, 2007Publisher:University Of Chicago PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0226492680

ISBN - 13:9780226492681

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Customer Reviews of Draft of a Letter


Extra Content

Table of Contents

Ice Men
Death and Reason
Draft of a Letter
The Gift
Joy and Reason
Buried Life
O Tourist
Self and Soul
The Gods in Exile
Ghost Pond
Reason and Sorrow
Second Draft
Yard Work
Second Life
A Different Route
Self and Soul
After Petrarch

Editorial Reviews

"Complex and moving, Draft is also quiet, elusive. It asks patience and a willingness to dwell in its unresolved tensions."