poem index

Poems for Friendship

Year

2014
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While friendship poems often seem to be the neglected cousin of the love poem, there is a long poetic tradition of poets writing verses to their poet friends—men and women who were either friends in daily life, or admired on the page. Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell dedicated several verses to each other as both poets and friends, including Bishop's poem "The Armadillo" and Lowell’s response, "Skunk Hour." Upon Lowell’s death, Bishop wrote "North Haven" to mourn the loss of his friendship and his writing:

 

You left North Haven, anchored in its rock,
afloat in mystic blue...And now—you've left
for good. You can't derange, or rearrange,
your poems again. (But the sparrows can their song.)
The words won't change again. Sad friend, you cannot change.

 

Similarly, Robert Frost wrote in an elegy dedicated to the poet Edward Thomas, "I slumbered with your poems on my breast." Gertrude Stein wrote "Portrait of Picasso," and in turn, he painted a portrait of her. Frank O’Hara and John Ashbery, two notable poets of the New York School, shared an affinity for each other’s work and dedicated poems to each other as well. O’Hara writes to Ashbery:

 

I can’t believe there’s not
another world where we will sit
and read new poems to each other
high on a mountain in the wind.

 

Portugese poet Fernando Pessoa so wanted a literary community that he created one with his own imagination. Writing under his own name as well as invented "heteronyms," including Ricardo Reis, Alberto Caeiro, and Alvaro de Campos, he created hundreds of poems under dozens of identities. His imaginary creations wrote letters to each other and to the editors of magazines in which they praised or criticized each other’s work, and had extensively developed biographies and styles, becoming friends and supporters, mentors, or enemies of each other and their creator.

One of the most visible contemporary examples of a poetic friendship is seen a book co-composed by Joshua Beckman and Matthew Rohrer called Nice Hat. Thanks. The book is a true collaboration, a collection of transcripts of the two poets composing spontaneously, one of them adding a word or phrase or line before passing the poem to the other. There is a lightheartedness to these poems cobbled together line-by-line and word-by-word, and yet also a serious element to the wordplay, the poems depending a great deal on the give and take of both their friendship and their improvisations.

Perhaps one of the reasons why we have more contemporary poems of romantic love and less of friendship is that friendship lends itself more to a specific than a universal form; poems of friendship celebrate conversation, shared memories, and quirks. Rather than romantic poems that declare themselves immediately, friendship poems sometimes give themselves away with the initials in the dedication, and sometimes not at all. For poems that address the idea of friendship—real, imaginary, historical, romantic, and poetic—consider the following:

" Your Catfish Friend" by Richard Brautigan
"The Armadillo" by Elizabeth Bishop
" The Soul Unto Itself" by Emily Dickinson
" Mending Wall" by Robert Frost
"Narcissus Lullaby" by Tony Hoagland
"Inviting a Friend to Supper," by Ben Jonson
"For John Berryman" by Robert Lowell
"Skunk Hour" by Robert Lowell
"On Gifts For Grace" by Bernadette Mayer
"Mr. Flood’s Party" by E.A. Robinson
"An Old Song" by Tomaz Salamun
"Sonnet 104" by William Shakespeare
"Portrait of Picasso" by Gertrude Stein
"Stanza II" from "Stanzas in Meditation" by Gertrude Stein
"Sea Canes" by Derek Walcott
"Endless Afternoons in a Spring Ice Storm on Mountain Roads in the Poconos" by Dara Wier
"Travelling" by William Wordsworth
"A Blessing," by James Wright
"Friends" by W.B. Yeats
"Adam’s Curse," by W.B. Yeats