Thursday, January 9, 2014

Poetic Mind Tip #1: Correspond with a Pen Pal

This is my letter to the world that never wrote to me. - Emily Dickinson

Poems allow us to slow down, notice, reflect. Lyric poems, especially, hold a moment still--long enough to view it--the way a photograph or a painting can. A difference with the poem from visual art, however, is the degree of internalization. A word, and its sound, functions as thin gauze of meaning. Picture a beaded curtain hanging in a doorway, each bead a letter, each strand a series of words that make lines. You can slip through those dangling strings of beads and get somewhere else, to the other side of a question or into a deeper awareness.

Why bother? What's so great about being aware, present, sensitive even? You have to answer that for yourself.

I can tell you that this quality of attention necessary for writing poems, what I call "the poetic mind," can be cultivated in other ways. One of the most satisfying? A pen pal. 

Write a detailed letter, by hand preferably, calling on powers of observation, description, and a sense of interiority. There's an element of gift-giving, which poems also have, the notion of making something for someone else as a way of sharing the world. Among poets are great letter writers, Rilke, Neruda, Bishop and more. But you don't have to be a great poet to write a great letter. Find someone in another city, state or country and take the time to write. Within a few months, your relationship to time will change and you'll be thinking more like a poet, which is to say, like someone who believes in truth and beauty, in being present and noticing.

Need inspiration? Check out The Letter Project.

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