The Correspondent, ©Iskra Johnson
(This late summer dispatch breaks all the rules of “newsletter.” August is a time of slow thinking and revision, thought and word pasted and lifted and re-placed in an order based on considerate disorder and association, ie. on the structure of my mind. If there is no news (I have been immersed in art history which is by definition old news) there is still, however a “letter.” This post is about letter writing itself, and how personal correspondence can mean the world and re-make the world of our creative lives. Settle into a deep chair, with good light or a rustling tree and a cat at your feet. Consider that the post office would love it if you bought some stamps.)
On this particular morning, about 214 days since the pandemic became the official organizing principle, I am sitting at my kitchen table drinking Earl Grey and looking at a stack of books and magazines and letters accumulated since spring. In April my friend Jennifer began sending me her monthly Poetry subscriptions along with pages torn from magazines. Every page is pre-read and annotated with trenchant scribbles in the margins, curated personally just for me. Jennifer has reached the place in life of casting off. I am still bringing things into my house, desperate for distraction, but seem to have confused doom scrolling and pulp novels with The Great Books. I gather romances from the Little Free Libraries on my walks and have not made it beyond chapter 1.
When the first poetry letter arrived I was ecstatic. Mail! Brown paper and string! And delivered by a man in blue socks and shorts, as though it was 1958, a sandwich meant Mayonnaise on Wonder Bread, and Lassie the Collie still roamed the earth in his white socks, teaching us what heroes look like. The letters have ignited a connection that feels bigger than just the two of us, my friend and me sitting alone dangling face masks on our wrists in our separate homes. Over 20 years we have corresponded by email and post, with a dedication that is Victorian. When we compose a sentence to send to each other it is with the knowledge that we are writing, not just the tourist postcard’s “wish you were here,” but miniature novellas painting scenes or memories that cross space and time. We write to bring each other actually here, and we take great care. [Read more…]