Letters: An Ancient Art

Oh hello Opus perusers*, my name is Dorothy Dickinson and I’m an Opus reader, submitter (I’m not sure how to make that sound less awkward), and member of the editorial board (and if you’re not, you should be, too).
I want to talk to you today about letters, the old-fashioned, pen to paper, ink on your fingers kind. Because this gives me a chance to talk about two different, amazing books…and also because I’m feeling just a little bit guilty about a note I told my mother I’d write and never did. I do, however, have a nice set of gold-embossed thank-you cards sitting on my desk that I bought with the best of intentions. At least that’s something, right?
The first book (the book to me in many ways; it and The Brothers Karamazov have accompanied me on all my journeys the past 3 or 4 years) is called “Letters to a Young Poet” and it’s by Rainer Maria Rilke. My copy was translated by Reginald Snell (which is a fantastic name). If you haven’t read it yet, you should. Especially if you want to be a writer. Especially especially if you want to be a poet. Here’s a little taster of what you’ll find within its hallowed pages:
“If your everyday life seems poor to you, do not accuse it; accuse yourself, tell yourself you are not poet enough to summon up its riches; since for the creator there is no poverty and no poor or unimportant place.” (12)
“…Have patience with everything that is unsolved in your heart and try to cherish the questions themselves, like closed rooms and like books written in a very strange tongue. Do not search now for the answers which cannot be given you because you could not live them. It is a matter of living everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, one distant day live right into the answer.” (21)
            The second book I want to talk about is Letters of Note. It’s a compilation of (by turns) crazy, fun, wonderful, heartbreaking letters from famous people, to famous people, and sometimes all of the above. The version I have is quite fancy, a thick, blue and white hardcover I picked up in the UK with “book prize” award money I’d been instructed to spend wisely. My roommate Alicia and I like to read a few letters from it whenever we have dinner together. But, luckily for you, dear Opus readers, Letters of Note started as a website. I’m going to give you the link, but be aware, you might lose hours reading missives from Maya Angelou, Helen Keller, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and the like.
            So that’s all I have for you right now, my friends. Oh! One more thing. Here’s a Calvin and Hobbes comic that reminds us that sometimes, it just “feels good to write it” all down, even if we don’t end up publishing it or sending it in to Opus.
Inline image 1
*Linguaphile side-note: I mean the historical definition of peruse here (to read in a careful and thoughtful way), not the newer, opposite ‘meaning’. I’m not bitter. Promise. I just don’t understand why a good word like ‘peruse’ has to end up a contranym. See: literally, inflammable. Although sometimes they’re called Janus words or enantiodromes and that’s pretty cool. I guess.
Rilke, Rainer Maria, Franz Xaver Kappus, and Reginald Snell. Letters to a Young Poet. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2002. Print.

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