Dead Letter Office
It's been a long time since I've written you. But I think about you often. It's always great to hear from you, to hold you, to gaze at the stamp of your beauty, your unique hand. Reading this article made me worry if you are OK. Are you OK?
Sure I'm always sending electronic missives and epistles. (You must have known I was dallying with someone.) I must spend as much time on that per day as a Jane Austen heroine keeping a beloved sister abreast of her adventures in Bath. But what becomes of them all once I zap them through the aether? I was thinking the other day, as is my wont, about etymologies, about the word "record." Sure enough it is from "cor", the heart--to recall to mind, to bring back to the heart. What record is there now of all those passionate conversations about poetry, of the vicissitudes of mood, of the little anecdotes (etymology again--"unpublished"), that are the real history of a life, of the intricate gossip? When this generation of writers passes from the earth, what will we know of them besides their public personae--their poems, their Wikipedia entries, their web sites, their... blogs? (Assuming these even survive, and are not inaccessible on a technology as lost and mysterious as the cartoons on the Phaestos Disk.) Poets are the saints of other poets--isn't it relics we want? Words they have touched?
Of course, maybe, as with many such neophobias, the article has a whiff of the hysterical. Is a "collected e-mails" really that different? "Collected correspondence" would do the trick, wouldn't it? Don't we save the e-mails that really matter, even print them out and put them in a folder? Wouldn't going back to pen and ink in a self-conscious way for our writerly friendships smack of the phoney, the posed, the stagey? "Hmmm. I"m writing this for posterity: I'd better not pass on that AWP gossip or dis that new book. After all, maybe I'll be famous someday and someone will publish this!"
On the other hand, does it really take that much longer to sit down with pen and paper and write something to a friend, doodle in the margins, enclose a newspaper clipping, slap on a stamp? Isn't it just a habit we have got out of? Does speed of transfer really matter that much? Waht about warmth, thoughtfulness, permanence? Isn't our business News that Stays News?
All I can say is, that I miss you. And that it is my own fault. And that I am going to think harder next time I bang out a long letter to a friend, attach a new poem and just press send.
You know I want to come back to you.
A. E. (Alicia) Stallings studied classics in Athens, Georgia and has lived since 1999 in Athens, Greece. She has published three books of poetry, Archaic Smile (1999), which won the Richard Wilbur Award; Hapax (2000); and Olives (2012). Her new verse translation of Lucretius (in rhyming fourteeners!), The Nature of Things,...