This collection of poems combines mournful reveries of the individual and collective losses of the U.S. AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and '90s with haunting recollections of the losses of childhood. Ghost Letters begins and concludes with poems in which the memories of love and rich relationships interweave with incantations of loss and keen descriptions of caring for the dying. In between is a section of poems that recreate the sweetness and pain of the speaker's childhood and the transformation that his father's death effects on the entire family.


Ghost Letters in effect stands witness to the U.S. AIDS epidemic. Because the collection also includes poems about childhood and poems that deal with desire and love independent of death and AIDS, the book as a whole resists segregation as exclusively tied to gay or HIV/AIDS culture. Individual poems, such as "Nights of 1990," which includes representations of a caregiver interacting with an AIDS patient in a hospital, are particularly effective in exposing students to an individual experience of the AIDS crisis, but this poem, like the larger collection, extends the borders of community in its compassionate exploration of loss.

Poems like "Fragments from an Explanation" evoke the way language itself becomes unhinged by death and nonetheless offers a bridge back from the isolation of grief. McCann's extraordinary language and gorgeous imagery trigger memory and emotion to create a complex understanding of death and mourning.


Ghost Letters won the Beatrice Hawley Award, Alice James Books (1994), and Capricorn Poetry Award, Writer's Voice (1993),


Alice James Books

Place Published

Cambridge, Mass.



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