Poetic epistle. Canon, Variables, Functions.

deadline for submissions: 
July 10, 2016
full name / name of organization: 
Carlo Tirinanzi De Medici - Permanent Seminar on Poetry - Trento University
contact email: 

The Permanent Seminar on Poetry (SEMPER) organizes its fourth international conference devoted to the topic of “The Poetic Epistle”. It may seem that a poem in letter form has had a limited diffusion through literary history, but it has, on the contrary, been an important part of Western literary traditions since Latin poetry, where, from Lucilius to Catullus, and Horace, the Epistola was established as a poetic genre on its own.

As examples of its diffusion in Romance medieval literatures one can think of troubadours, such as Giraut Riquier (whose letters - in Cesare Segre’s words - were a «hybrid genre, since its content is usually theoretical, if not overtly didactic».), and of poetic epistles in some prose romances, e.g. Tristan en prose or Tavola Ritonda. The Italian Stilovisti used such genre frequently in the 13th Century.

Between 15th and 17th centuries, the model derived from Horace’s letters is strongly vital in many literatures, from Ariosto’s Satire to Marino’s Lettera di Rodomonte e Doralice, from Clément Martot’s oeuvre, to John Donne’s Sappho to Philaenis, not to mention the vast use of this literary form in Spanish literature, among others in Garcilaso, Lope, and Quevedo (Epístola satírica y censoria), but one should also remember the use of letters in the plays of the Siglo de Oro. At the same time Ovid’s Heroides were quite popular in Italy (in Niccolò da Correggio, Antonio Tebaldeo, and Giovanni Filoteo Achillini).

In the modern era we have many examples of poetic epistles, frequently with a “militant” function, and with a large variety of literary, moral, and political themes: for example, French writers such as Boileau and Voltaire, Italian writers such as Pindemonte, Foscolo, Leopardi, Spanish writers (Iriarte’s Epístolas en verso), as well as English Writers such as Anne Finch, Alexander Pope, and Mary Wortley Montague.

The 20th Century offers a variety of poetic epistles. New functions for this genre were added alongside the traditional ones, and new issues were addressed through this form, such as the reflection on communicability and absence of communication, the infinite distance between sender and receiver (Rilke’s Requiem fúr eine Freundin is paradigmatic in this sense). More generally, in contemporary poetry the poetic letter seems to illustrate the movement of the lyric subject outside him/herself, and the questioning of his/her own ontology to the extreme point of emptying him/herself while trying to find the Other. The epistle represents a generic or real You typical of a dialogic space, collective and participated. Sometimes the You and the Self are anonymous or mythic, and aim to develop a constant tension between presence and absence in both the poet, and the addressee.


We invite 20 minutes papers (in English, Italian, French, Spanish) which investigate any aspect of the poetic epistle. Proceedings will be published in a peer-reviewed book series. Proposals may include, but are not limited to the following topics:

  • Poetic epistles in literary history
  • The relationship between Latin epistles and similar forms (diatribes, prosimetra, prose epistles)
  • Canons of poetic epistles in literary periods and movements (Latin, Middle Age, Renaissance, Baroque…)
  • Canon and genre of the epistle (love, elegy, moral, satyrical, political, etc.)
  • Thematic, formal, and functional features of the poetic epistle: communicative strategies, sender’s poetic “I” and his/her relationship with the addressees, the absence/presence of the addressee in the poetic epistle, meta-literary aspects of poetic letters.
  • The epistolary book: models, features, functions, and examples.


Proponents should send a 300 words abstract and a 150 words bio-bibliographic note to letterainversi@gmail.com before July, 10th, 2016. The scientific committee will review proposals and make decisions before the end of July.