Monday, 9 September 2013

"Identity" - an introduction to Dead Letter Office by Anonymous

(First published as part of the Edinburgh Ebook Festival 2013.

Speaking as both a reader and an editor, I’m interested in literature that demands my attention early on. This probably means I’m missing out on a few slow-burning classics, so apologies to any authors who I’ve made a hasty decision to reject.

With the poetry collection, Dead Letter Office, I was hooked as soon as I read the opening line: “There’s a mallard and his mate outside my window.”  This one simple statement encapsulates everything that follows. This is the story of a rejected lover, looking out of their window, viewing the world outside in contrast to their own isolation.

When Dead Letter Office landed in my inbox, I half-expected something along the same lines as Exiled on Main Street, the poetry collection we published by the same author in 2012.  In a way, I was surprised at the contrast between the two books.  Exiled on Main Street is much broader in tone, with the poet adopting a range of angry, disillusioned voices.  Dead Letter Office is gentler and bleaker, with a single voice dwelling on the mistakes of their past.

Perhaps writing anonymously makes it easier for a writer to flip from one personality to another.  The lack of an identity as an author means each individual piece of work has an identity of its own.   

Non-profit publishing seems to be the perfect outlet for anonymous authors.  It’s obvious why mainstream publishers aren’t keen on the idea.  How many copies would Dan Brown’s latest novel have sold if the publishers failed to include the author’s name on the cover?  (I was going to say JK Rowling but thought better of it.)

Writing anonymously allows the writer to step completely outside of themselves, and perhaps write more freely as a result.  For one thing, you can experiment with radical ideas without worrying about what kind of backlash you’ll receive.  In the case of the anonymous authors of the manifesto Things That Don’t Exist, which we published last year, the authors state: “This manifesto was composed by a group of individuals who wish to remain anonymous on the grounds that their ideas are more important than their identities.” 

Appropriately enough, anonymity is a central theme in Dead Letter Office.  The book tells a tale of lost love, through a series of unsent letters written by a nameless narrator to a nameless recipient.  The following short poem sums the collection up well:  

Unsent Letter #3

Dear ,

Sometimes I no longer believe you are real; this letter
will sit in the dead letter office, unopened and unread
until one rainy day, a bored employee will wonder who
it was meant for. They will open it, read it aloud; create
their own narrative. I wonder will they be able to see
the curve of your hand, the spot on your wrist I used
to kiss; the freckle on your rib. On my window ledge,
a petal, used to be a rose. It is a stamp that has fallen
off an envelope; one more letter unable to be delivered.


One of the great things about poetry is that it allows you to tell a story without the necessity of a beginning, middle or end.  Each poem in Dead Letter Office focuses on a different aspect of the relationship between our two unnamed lovers, and a different aspect of the narrator’s sorrow.  Once the bigger picture has been established at the end of the collection, you may find yourself returning to the beginning in order to pick up bits you may have missed first time round.  It’s that kind of book. 

Download it for free from  You won’t be disappointed.

Frank Burton 

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