by Yolande Clark-Jackson
For Christmas I received a set of decorative cards and envelopes from a student. She did not know about my love of beautiful stationery or the promise I made before the holiday to write my mother more often. My mother’s letters are one of my treasures because she is much more intimate on paper and because she has lovely handwriting and a lyrical writing voice.
In 2007, Lakshmi Pratury, founder of Ixoraa Media, implored an audience of thousands to continue the art of letter writing via a TED talk. In her talk she shared the impact of the letters her father wrote to her before he died. She asked her audience not to abandon letter writing for emails because of the legacy a handwritten letter leaves behind. She said, “The same letter that touched his hand, is now in mine.”
In 2012, Hannah Brencher, a recent college graduate, gave a TED talk on the same stage sharing her experience writing over four hundred handwritten love letters to strangers to give advice or encouragement. Today if you log on to Brencher’s website, moreloveletters.com, you too can pick a stranger to write a love letter to for Valentine’s Day.
Brencher’s love letter campaign and its effects seems revolutionary in these days and times, but when Franz Kappus published his ten letters from Rainer Maria Rilke in 1929, I am sure he had no idea how many aspiring writers, whom he would never meet, would be impacted by them.
What was most interesting to me about Letters to a Young Poet, is that although Rilke and Kappus never met, the letters are very personal and more and more become like meditations or journals to the writer himself than letters to Kappus. Rilke seems to be reminding himself of what a writer needs in order to strengthen his own resolve. He seems to be telling himself that he needs to be courageous, patient, and alone. In his eighth letter, he writes, “Don’t think that the person who is trying to comfort you now lives untroubled among the simple and quiet words that sometimes give you pleasure. His life has much trouble and sadness, and remains far behind yours. If it were otherwise, he would never have been able to find those words” (97).
The author makes revelations about things he has learned about life, love and solitude. Revelations that he may have hoped someone had shared with him. At first he clings to his belief that “no one can truly give advice to another.” Yet, he begins to find pleasure and purpose in imparting his wisdom to a younger version of his “solitary and courageous” self that is struggling “in a rugged reality.”
Pratury and Brencher’s attempts to save the art and intimacy of the hand written letter seems futile against the rise of electronic devices, but I think it is a worthy cause. I believe letter writing helped to shape me into a more open and honest nonfiction writer. And I believe it can benefit all writers to lay their hand to real paper and place their best words on a page that will travel to meet another. I say to all, write a beautiful letter to a stranger on beautiful stationery for Valentines’s Day. Write something worth waiting for and leave your mark on someone’s soul.
Rilke, Rainer Maria. Letters to a Young Poet. New York: Vintage Books, 1986.