Sunday, April 5, 2009

Notes on the Letter Table

I was intrigued at the prospect of the Project Space, a studio open to the public, and thought of what I might do with such an opportunity. As a writer, with a strong interest in social interaction, I was intrigued by this situation as a way of exploring the different ways poetry arises out of interaction. So this is one of several projects that in some way involve relationship: to others, to time. One project, Listening Booth, involves face-to-face interaction, and the Letter Table is another aspect of that, the directness of one person sitting and writing a letter to another. What can be set in motion by that gesture? I’m very grateful to the Headlands for the opportunity to explore these projects in this public space where people enter with an openness to inquiry.

I remember once my friend Richard McCann, whose work has been a central inspiration in my own, described being “restored to avidity,” by something he read and I think of that as a kind of measure; when a piece alerts me to my own life, I find that most thrilling, more so than, “wow look at that beautiful thing, that thing over there.” I’m more interested in something I make or write inspiring someone to inhabit their life and speak from that, so this project kind of just gets on with it, without there being an object for us to negotiate.

Most of us walk around thinking we don’t have time to write a letter, so this plays with opening up that sense of possibility. Everything’s provided-- even time, to some extent, since most people come into the space having already decided they might have a bit of time to spend with whatever they find here. I wanted to offer this context where people could find that sense of dilation that comes when you sit down and write to someone.

There’s an intimacy that comes in writing a letter with a pen and paper. The movement of the hand, etc. I was watching a friend address an envelope the other day, to an ex-girlfriend and I was struck at how she was really addressing that envelope with her whole body, wrapping herself around the act of it.

When I wrote to people and asked if they’d like to be involved, the response was very enthusiastic and warm and in the process I met many people who are doing this work on their beautiful presses. Also, Crane Paper was very responsive and generous. It was great to get that sense of how instantly Peter Hopkins at Crane appreciated the spirit of the project. He said, “I’ll send you some monarch sheets. That size gives the writer ample time to think about who they’re writing to.” I loved that he was thinking that way. So in meeting all these people, through inviting them into the project, I’ve really enjoyed that feeling of nodes lighting up. I feel I’ve just scratched the surface of what’s here, and would like to learn more about it myself, and engage further collaborations, reading series, broadsides, chapbooks, etc…

The other morning I woke up thinking of all these projects as drawings, all those arcs the letters create, for example. I guess you could think of all the letters as part of one filamented network of a book.

As for documentation, something in me wants to trace all the letters that go out, mark them somehow, but I’m more interested in a subtle form of reverberation, the ways these letters will go out and be received and maybe I’ll hear something about that and maybe I won’t. Any time I think about a stamp or something that asks anything of the writer or recipient, it feels extra, and intrusive to whatever exchange is happening. I like the sense of the tremor a letter creates, especially one that one has meant to write for a while…the way that maybe a letter someone will write here will set some kind of healing in motion, or will initiate a new alliance, or maybe a (d)alliance! or just simply create in both the writer and recipient a sense of dropping into time rather than running ahead or behind it. Also, the interactions that happen here in the space have been very rich in themselves.

The other day I had the idea to do a series of portraits of people as they lick envelopes. Something decidedly absent from email: that moment of licking. the kind of trancy expression people have when they lick an envelope. So so far, that’s as far as I’ve gotten in ideas of documenting this: photographing people as they lick the envelope, if they don’t object.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Is there a letter you'd like to write?

The Letter Table will be installed at the Headlands Center for the Arts Project Space April 6 - 20, 2009.

The table is fully stocked with stationery and postage.

Visitors to the Project Space, are invited to sit down and write a letter on stationery generously donated by letterpress studios around California and beyond. Crane Paper has also donated beautiful monarch sheets for the project. And Atelier Gargoyle Studios has provided ink, quill pens, and sealing wax. Several kind postal patrons have provided stamps as well.

Visitors are welcome to the Project Space Tuesday - Friday, and Sunday 12 - 5.