Nick Bantock’s Griffin & Sabine books were the first, I think, to grant us the voyeuristic thrill of opening and reading other people’s letters. Many books have built upon the concept since, creating innovations of their own, notably Candlewick Press’ -Ology Series, but for the first time that I know of (please tell me if there are others!), poetry has gotten into the game with Dancing Girl Press‘ limited edition collection, billet-doux. And I am so excited about it!
billet-doux, originally planned to arrive by Valentine’s Day, comes in a shallow brown box: Fifteen different poets contributed one poem each, and, as I understand it, each poet was responsible for her own poem’s design. Fonts, type size, everything varies from poem to poem:
Enclosed in the taupe envelope (with a cool watercolor-redacted-poem label) with Bronwen Tate’s “Dear Caleb, It’s 4:13 PM” is a recipe for zuni gateau victoire. Annie Finch’s “Letter for Emily Dickinson” also makes use of watercolor, this time a sunset-colored palette.
The poem styles also run the gamut, from Annie Finch’s sure-footed rhymes to one of the best prose poems I’ve ever read, Ariana-Sophia Kartsonis’ “Dearest Mistake,,” printed on green opaque paper with the faint silhouettes of trees.
Suzanne Frischkorn’s “Window” has one of the sparest designs, printed on the back of an index card, a pale blue swirl flanking the title, but this is not a criticism. It somehow matches the simple beauty of the poem: “Thrush birdsong: lacey throated stars.”
“Postcard with Language Barrier” by Kelli Russell Agodon comes in a printed air mail envelope addressed to Pablo Neruda, and the poem is indeed on a postcard whose picture looks to be an old black and white ad for the Smith Premier No. 4 Typewriter. “And when we love/ together, the bees groan.”
Emma Bolden’s “Epistle I. Why I Can’t Write You a Love Poem” has a clever and skillfully drawn picture of a bird in a ribcage, which dovetails perfectly with her poem: “The heart itself knows/ it’s not a red-barred bird.” Dancing Girl Press is slated to publish a chapbook of Emma’s Epistles in the fall, and after this taste, I can’t wait.
Not everything works. There are a few whose designs may have sounded neat as ideas but whose executions made reading good poems difficult. And I didn’t love every poem. But that’s all to be expected with such a wide-ranging and adventurous collection. This is a limited edition, so I don’t even know if or how many copies are still available, but if you can swing it, I definitely recommend ordering one for yourself. I’ll be looking through mine, (taking care to keep it from Vincent, who cried a delighted, “Mail!” when he saw me open my box) for a long time to come. Congratulations to Dancing Girl Press and all the poets involved!