Yesterday in the mail a large envelope arrived, return address American Academy of Poets. I had eagerly been awaiting the arrival of the new poster to mark National Poetry Month in April. Amazingly,one only has to request the poster (www.poets.org) in order to receive it. The subject of the poster: writing letters. It's beauty lies in the printed blue and beige stationary, envelopes, postmarks, pens and instructions printed off to the side: Write, about your sorrows, your wishes, your passing thoughts, your belief in anything beautiful from the book Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Joan M. Burnham. Copyright 2000 by New World Library with permission to reprint. What poet or writer has not read these letters, taken seriously the advice given? I'm partial to Stephen Mitchell's translation and forward of Rilke's letters to Franz Xaver Kappus. I was pleased because reading letters written by writers has aways been part of my study. And at this moment in the side pocket of my notebook there are two slips of paper, each with a name and address written clearly, I am to write two letters this week, one to each person named. I will take my time and find the right stationary, write my note, then add a beautiful stamp. I may put a quote on the envelope. Each letter will by handwritten in ink.
Every other week I meet with a small group of writers I have been working with for more than five years. This season we are reading Letters to Olga by Vaclav Havel, translated by Paul Wilson, embracing the personal and the particular. We draw each others names, then in turn write letters to one another, mostly handwritten on cards, small slips of paper, and formal stationary. Our intention is to follow the human impulse longing for connection and share the personal. Our letters honor the written word, our processes and our shared experience of our writing lives. Last week Betty wrote, When Julie reads her work, I hear mountains calling my name. When Diane reads I can sense the Red Sea parting. I wonder what people hear when I’m reading? Ruth writes, A week lived has no tidy line ruled straight between one day and the next. Diana writes, It’s a stuck in molasses grey day but I see a few brilliant yellow daffodils brightening things up. Vaclav Havel writes to his wife Olga, writing letters is a small ceremony. Yes, each letter, a small ceremony. Yes, and the reading of letters, ceremonial, as well. Among my favorite books of letters: One Art: Elizabeth Bishop, Letters selected and edited by Robert Giroux and A Wild Perfection: the selected letters of James Wright edited by Anne Wright and Saundra Rose Maley with Jonathan Blunk both published by Farrar, Strays and Giroux. I like particularly the literary connections between writers: James Wright's letters to James Dickey, Robert Bly and Donald Hall. His letters are newsy, full of literary discourse and struggles. He always locates himself in his surroundings. Bishop is in conversation with Robert Lowell who was her most important literary friend and colleague, Randall Jarrell and Marianne Moore. Letters put her life and her work in context.
There is another small collection of books along side Keats, Pound, William Carlos Williams, Plath's Letter's Home, Dickinson, Larkin, Chekhov, and Marianne Moore. These books are dedicated to a particular correspondence:The Delicacy and Strength of Lace, Leslie Marmon Silco and James Wright edited by Anne Wright published by Graywolf Press in 1986, The Letters of Denise Levertov and William Carlos Williams edited by Christpher MacGowan, published by New Direction Books in 1998 and a beautiful limited edition,The Letters of D. H. Lawrance and Amy Lowell:1914-1925 edited by E. Claire Healey & Keith Cushman published by Black Sparrow Press in 1985. Each of these books reveals the intimate literary friendships developed and recorded through the act and art of letter writing. Lawrence wrote Lowell, we'll keep a bit of decent kindness at the bottom of our hearts. Silko and Wright exchanged work, discussed the difficulty of writing when besieged by personal turmoil, and about triumphs. In Silko's last letter to James Wright, she wrote,... no matter if written words are seldom, because we know, Jim, we know. The correspondance between Levertov and Williams began with discussions about their poetry.Often they were in argument. Williams urged her ...to write, to begin., not to sit and wait. Levertov's letters to Williams were all handwritten. I'm waiting patiently for the April 2 release so that I can add Airmail: The Letters of Robert Bly and Thomas Transtromer, an addition to my small collection.
I replace my ink cartage with blue-blank ink. I locate the G. Lalo paper from Paris, Blanc/White. I retrieve the address from the back of my notebook. I write today's date and my location at the top of the paper, look to the window and then back to the paper again and begin my letter...Dear Julie. I'm hoping I will have the courage to write the truth.