Letter to an Imaginary Friend: Parts I-IV

Thomas McGrath

This narrative epic poem took Thomas McGrath thirty years to write and is truly one of the great poems of the English language, yet it has never appeared in print as a single volume. By turns modern and Homeric, Letter to an Imaginary Friend explores American mythology, politics and landscape in what Library Journal has called “a tremendous odyssey of sense and spirit.”

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ISBN: 9781556590788

Format: Paperback

ISBN: 9781556590771

Format: Hardcover

About the Author

Thomas McGrath was born on a North Dakota farm in 1916. He attended the University of North Dakota and Louisiana State University and was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University. During World War II he served in the Air Force, and he was blacklisted for his political convictions during the McCarthy era. He worked as a documentary film scriptwriter and was the founder and first editor of the literary magazine Crazyhorse. McGrath received fellowships from the Bush Foundation, the Guggenheim …

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“A surprisingly accessible long poem in the Pound tradition of personal epics, Letter to an Imaginary Friend… compels our intimate attention… McGrath’s capacity for evoking images, whether describing vegetables or labor strikes, is often amazing, compacting the wealth of an entire poem in a few lines.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

“McGrath is major. If you don’t know his work, you owe it to yourself to dive into it at the first opportunity.” —San Francisco Review of Books

“It is fine McGrath—funny, politically radical in the best sense of that word, sensitive, rich in metaphor and even in a kind of mythology, filled with interesting uses of language devices—in brief, a fine, first-rate piece of work, by our single best radical poet, and without any qualifiers, by one of our best poets.” —Western American Literature

“Memory is a dominant theme of McGrath’s poem. He is obsessed with the uniqueness of event, the sadness that each thing happens once and no more… What makes all these particular losses bearable, the poet seems to say, is their participation in greater chords of meaning that span decades and centuries.” —San Francisco Chronicle

Letter to an Imaginary Friend is an all-absorbing narrative long-sequence poem that not only deserves to be read for its big vowel-sounding McGrath music that works on the tongue, but studied for its unique formal concerns and its personal myth-making/historical scope. Jammed full with shouts, quips, snorts, meditations, yawps, gags, rough edges and some of the most beautiful lyric description found anywhere, Letter is surely a long-sequence poem that will be considered among the quintessential American poems of this century.” —Hungry Mind Review

“McGrath’s major work, Letter to an Imaginary Friend, [has] been compared favorably to William Carlos Williams’s Paterson, Hart Crane’s Bridge, and other twentieth century long poems. It is an extraordinary reading experience that should not be missed by anyone who cares about American poetry.” —English Journal

“Not perhaps since William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound has a poet undertaken so ongoing an epic and prevailed to the end… If poetry still means anything in this media-haunted world, [Letter to an Imaginary Friend] is a place to begin.” —Hudson Review

“Best of all, Letter to an Imaginary Friend licks its fingers and burps at the table. Polite it is not—and the better for it when McGrath turns from his populist vitriol… [to] bestowing praise—grace, even—on the common, the unruly… those McGrath choses to side and sing with.” —Rain Taxi

“Not since Pound’s Cantos has any poet drawn upon such varied sources to make a personal and political statement… A tremendous odyssey of sense and spirit.” —Library Journal

“By turns fierce, somber, rollicking and outrageous—a simmering olla podrida of an epic.” —The Nation

“It’s sad that McGrath… didn’t live to see Copper Canyon’s definitive reissue of his epic (the first to include all four parts)… This edition is the most readable to date… and the most attractive… Transfixing moments in Letter to an Imaginary Friend are at least as numerous as its pages. Poetry lovers owe it to themselves to experience this fearless, visionary masterpiece.” —Star Tribune

Letter to an Imaginary Friend is exactly the sort of smorgasbord that we expect from distinctly American epics… Its publication in a single, reasonably priced volume preserves an American treasure.” —Contemporary Literary Criticism

Letter to an Imaginary Friend could become the first great poem out of the heart of the American Midwest.” —American Book Review

Awards & Honors

Selected by the Academy of American Poets Book Club

National Endowment for the Arts Literature Program Senior Fellowship, 1987