By Clarissa Richee
“Elegy for the Person Letter” by Allison Joseph from her volume My Father's Kites is a poem that points to the over civilization of western culture. Although Joseph uses the metaphor of letter writing, her laments also address a much larger social problem altogether. That is the lost appreciation for the fumbled imperfections of humanity over the mendacity of perfection.
In her poem, Joseph uses words such as “rumpled,” “errors,” “dashed” and “ragged” to describe a hand written letter versus one that is mass produced and stock. While all of these words indicate the presences of flaws, Joseph’s poem holds these flawed characteristics in high regard. She says “I miss…the ink blots and crossouts that show/ someone lives on the other end, a person/whose hands make errors, leaves traces.”
The words “I miss” are used over and over again; in this way the poem follows a sort of emotional logic, rather than a strictly intellectual debate. Joseph couples her diction with strong imagery to conjure feelings of nostalgia for the imperfections of personality, effectively simulating a possibly familiar sense of one person’s longing for another. She calls to mind the hands that are writing the letter, the “creamy” shades of “fine” paper and the raised curves of “scribbled messages,” characteristics she demes both “prominent” and “elegant,” so much so that she drops everything else just to receive this type of mail.
In contrast, the neat, polished letters Joseph describes with distain, naming them as “formatted,” “distant” and “meager”. She asserts that these letters are not reminiscent of what it means to human, but rather of what it means to be a machine. She does not take comfort in their glossy displays of perfection, because she knows they are lies, cold falsehoods that are therefore meaningless.
Allison Joseph Week