The Letter Project

October 25, 2009

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Filed under: Mailart — Theresa Williams @ 1:11 am
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Erin you know it in your heart



You want to write   write  write


This is what you shall do:  love the earth and sun, and animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence towards people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown, or to any man or number of men, go freely with the powerful uneducated persons, and with the young, and mothers, of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life…dismiss whatever insults your soul.  –Walt Whitman

This is an illustrated letter that I made for Erin to remind her to keep writing.   Presently, she’d doing just that.  She will soon finish her MFA with a concentration in writing children’s stories. —TW

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Filed under: Letters — Theresa Williams @ 1:10 am
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Joshua Minton is a graduate of the BGSU writing program and publishes his work on  He writes this letter to his young son who is, in Joshua’s words, the best thing he ever collaborated on.  –TW


It is one of my greatest hopes that you will grow to be a lover of books of all kinds, that you will read widely and deeply, bouncing from book to book, one always in your hand or your bag or your bedside table. I have found great solace in the books of my life, always a promise of something undiscovered, more and more, only to be let down enough that my search continues but not too much that my desire to know is extinguished. I wish this disease of the passion of books on you, my son, and I hope that you foster it and give it to your children so that they may pass it on to theirs, so that the Minton name will one day be synonymous with great reading.

Reading is one of the most unnatural things a person can do; it is much easier to say something out loud and unpoetically, without rhythm or meter, without alliteration, theme, the mystery of a narrator, or the levels and gaps between the author and a distant reader. It is easier to say things and let them evaporate like letters carved in sand with a stick, just before high tide washes the intention away. To read what others have been brave enough to write down, in furious defiance of time and history, is to jump into the deep river of the wisdom of our species.

Before you can become a great reader though, there are a few basic rules you should know and I doubt that your teachers will know these, so I want to be sure to write them down for you, like a treasure map.

The first rule is that the entire Universe is contained in the measure of one sentence. Some wise human being once said that the essence of the whole meal is contained in the first bite; likewise, all you need is one sentence to convey any deep truth.

The second rule is that commas reveal secrets, hinged stairways for clauses that can take a sentence to deeper meanings, like dungeons in an ancient castle. The best sentences uses commas to dig down into those dungeons and then climb back out so the reader may see the prize in the glorious sunlight, even if they remain unsure of its substance or luster.

And finally, while the entire Universe can be contained in one sentence, its story can only be told in the paragraph. Paragraphs are the solar systems of language, carrying their own gravitational planetary bodies and movements. If sentences are the heartbeat of great fiction, then paragraphs are the organs that nourish the body.

These rules and a basic measure of finding a good story (hint: the ones that make you weep and carry a piece of you away with them between their bindings are the good ones) are the only rules you will need to enjoy a lifetime of great reading.

Human beings can be awful animals, son. Wicked to each other, worse to themselves, they break and dissolve so easily, some of them will flitter in and out of your life as if a strong wind blows between your minutes. But humans also have a steely side, supernovae that paint the fragments of their lives electric, spill over into their neighbors’ yards, and turn up the music until it drowns out everything. The best books will move you like this, help you stand strong as a tomb, and become unknockable by the temporal winds of circumstance and condition.

My greatest hope is for you to paint your life with colors from the love and hatred of others, for they are ultimately the same emotion, sprung from focus, to turn your music up way past sensible, and to touch the heart of everyone you meet, to leave a legacy of smiles in the people of your own story. And if I could be so greedy, I would ask one more thing of your life; may it be marked with great books, large words defining larger moments, the music of putting it all together just to watch it fall apart, celebrating stick figures in the sand at high tide, a joyous participation in the sufferings of the world.

I love you my precious child.

Your Father,

Joshua Minton

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Filed under: Letters — Theresa Williams @ 1:01 am
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In this delightful letter to me, Ashutosh Bhupatkar discusses the poet Rumi.   Ashutosh lives and teaches in India.  —TW

2009 Aug 27

Ms Theresa Williams
1800 Bowling Green Road East
Bradner, OH 43406


My dear Theresa

When you asked the other day through your comment on the Facebook, if I had written anything after the April Poem A Day project.

Well, I had actually written 18 verses as a tribute to Rumi some two years back, but had not published them myself for some reasons.

My old student and now a Creative Art Photographer, Nirmala Savadekar had come up with this idea of a Photo Poetry book on Rumi to mark his 800th birth anniversary in 2007.   She had requested me to write the verses based on Rumi’s well known themes.  She also gave me some poetry written about Rumi to read.

I had read Rumi the first time about 15 years back and if my memory serves me right, it was again Nirmala who had introduced me to it.  Rumi’s treatment of the theme of love sounded familiar to me in the light of similar treatment by the devotional poets of India like Saint Mira.  The imagery is sensual but the import is spiritual love and union with the Divine.  In my mind, therefore, the evolution followed a trajectory: from the physical passion to the sensuous love to the spiritual union and dissolution of the duality.

In the last 15 years or more, I also came in contact with certain Sufi traditions that spoke of the dissolution of the ego or the awareness of distinctions in the world of becoming.  I had the good fortune of meeting some evolved practitioners of the Sufi tradition.  I found that they had a way of communicating much more through their contact than through their conversation.  I could get a glimpse – alas, only a glimpse – of what they meant by pure being and pure experience.

As Nirmala commanded me to write those 18 verses, I sat down and produced the first draft almost in a trance and sent it to her.  To this day, I cannot recollect how I came to do it.  She was amazed and offered a few suggestions.  I revised the draft and sent it to her.  She has been looking for a financier to support the project.  I know it is not easy to get one for this kind of project.  In the meantime, a friend of mind, Colin Lascale asked consent to put these up on a blog with images to be chosen by him.  I consented and he created a blog  .  In his own wisdom, he added images only of fine art nude photographs, arguing that the distinction between the physico-sensual and the psycho-spiritual is artificial and untenable.  Looking at the images he has chosen, one can applaud his tastefulness and I for one chose not to press him any further.  

As things stand, I don’t think his blog has attracted much attention and I don’t see any comments being posted there.  In contrast, I have posted the verses in units of six and have seen a number of comments from my friends being posted on the Facebook page.  Today I have posted the last instalment of the six verses.  I have however not picked up courage to post the link to Colin Lascale’s blog as I fear it would scandalise quite a few of my friends.

So it’s interesting that this poetic effort of mine has come about entirely out of my friends’ affectionate goading.  I remember a Tao saying – what happens depends on how it happens.  It’s true that I get a little high with my friends’ encouragement and do something well beyond myself.

With you Theresa, this is the second time, the first being your encouragement to participate in April Poem A Day challenge.  I have no words to express my gratitude.  For me you carry that touch of the Divine for me.  There is no way to repay it.

With all my love and affection

 Yours sincerely


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Filed under: Mailart — Theresa Williams @ 1:00 am
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From Erin:  Here's to Snail Mail

From Erin: Here's to Snail Mail

This Microlette arrived with a letter.  In the letter Erin writes:  “Thank you for the microlette (love that word!) and recommendation to read ecstatic poets.  I have the ‘shout out’ posted beside my desk.  … I’m bashful when it comes to my artistic skills (or lack thereof)…This is a wonderful idea, and I enjoyed the others posted to The Letter Project. —TW

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Filed under: Letters — Theresa Williams @ 12:59 am
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Of her letter, Rae Hallstrom states:  I remember writing poems and making up stories to entertain my friends and cousins while in grade school, and it is the only thing I’ve ever really wanted to do. But time has a way of killing dreams. First authority figures warned me against it, then economic necessity forced me to put my time into other things. When I woke from the dream described in this letter, I had no idea what it meant. Three days later it dawned on me. The baby is the creative life I want to lead. There are four novels (babies) that I have started but not finished, researched but not fleshed out. I do not want to lose them, but the fleas of  life–to quote another writer–interfere. I wish I knew the way out of this dilemma. 

Rae Hallstrom lives near Cleveland.  

September 1, 2009

  •  Theresa Williams
  • c/o The Letter Project
  • English Department
  • Bowling Green State University
  • Bowling Green, OH  43403

Dear Theresa,

As I write to you this morning I am still in the fog of a dream that I know someone (my own subconscious?) or something (those late night grape tomatoes in Caesar salad dressing?) insists I remember, and record.

It was one of those restless, panicky, sleepless nights that seem to be haunting me lately. So many grabby, attention-getting things were popping in and out of my mind, one more urgent or niggling than the next. At 2 in the morning, I surrendered, put on my eyeglasses (the old frames that are more comfortable than pretty), some old sock-slippers kept from a hospital visit because they might come in use, and one light after another in succession, first on, then off, until I made my way to the basement where I do the work that matters.

My desktop computer is there, with easy access to email and online auctions and all sorts of odd news about ships and vacuous spoon-fed celebrities, and the life-saving video clips of cats that make the heart feel hugged.

I opened a new document and at the top typed: To Do List, and began listing the jumble of things that dropped from my mind, like gum balls from a round globe fitted upside down onto a coin operated dispenser, and jaw-breakers seemed to roll out one after the other, first red, then green, followed by white, yellow and blue. My list was 4 pages long before I ran out of quarters or the glass jar had emptied or more likely, jammed. But nothing else tumbled out, so I saved the document, made my way back up 2 flights of stairs, and fell asleep the moment my eyes closed.

Then I dreamed a terrible dream.

It was the Olympics, presumably the Summer Olympics, because outside there were grapes on the vine in a place I’d never been, unless my mind clipped its dream scenery from a recent visit with friends to a bar at a winery. Or the dream may have taken place in Greece. Why not Greece? Home of the Olympics, and in this dream, a balmy but conspicuously absent Mediterranean air. The ground was turned but dry, like the real winery in Ohio on the day we were there, and it was full of small rocks and hard chunks of dirt so that walking over it hurt the soles of the feet, the lumps making their presence known through the lace-up athletic shoes that I wore. I was stumbling down a hill toward a bus unloading tourists, and I meant to warn them of the danger even as I knew the danger was not for them, not for anyone but me.

Earlier I had been trying to manage a baby and a dog, and somehow find my way to the coveted ticketed seats in the bleachers, to watch one of the Olympic competitions. I have never had the fortune to possess Olympic tickets in real life. The dog must have entered my dream from the Late Night with David Letterman show. He’d featured dogs flying, then diving, into a regulation dog-diving pool. I did not recognize the dog in my dream, or the baby, but I knew her, and knew with a mother’s protective instincts that she was mine.

I picked up the baby and carried her close to my chest. I felt her weight and it was right, and soothed me. Then the dog caught my attention and I put the baby down. When I finished tending to the dog, the baby was gone. I searched for her and each time except the last, I found my baby and picked her up and felt whole again. But when I woke up, in this dream fog, my baby was gone—taken by a monster—and I knew I might never see her alive again.

Being awake, I went to the bathroom, then descended the stairs to the kitchen, and made myself some tea. It was Bigelow’s Raspberry Royale®, and it came in a bright pink foil-lined packet. I tore a leftover spelt, oat, buckwheat and blueberry pancake in half, and ate it with a drizzle of real maple syrup, because the fake stuff made of corn syrup and artificial flavoring is not worth the bottle it’s poured into. I ate standing up, feeling as if I did not deserve to sit down, and I puzzled over the sense that the dream was what was real, and the pancake and the tea and the fact that I’d overslept was not.

Have you ever had a dream like that? A dream that won’t let go?

My real babies are grown and in college, but the baby I’d held in the night was real in another world, a world I might never know without her, and she was lost, and I wanted her back. I was distraught, until a thought floated into view and I wrote it down. It was a message from the world where the touch and the smell and the heft of a baby rivals the ones that teethe.

Then I trudged downstairs and opened the previous night’s To Do List. The first line on the list was: Write Theresa for The Letter Project.

I am always doing things that other people judge, because they do not produce what others might call real-world-results. So I did not plan to begin writing to The Letter Project, because there were other things on the list that anyone would say were more important, or necessary, which is the same thing to most people.   

Why is it that everyone does not know the necessity, and the urgency, that is art?

Before I knew it, my scribble had filled pages, and crept into margins sideways and upside down. When I finished, I typed the letter into a new, untitled document, because in its original state no one but me stood a chance to decipher it. At the end, I remembered that there had been a dream message from my bad night of sleep, or night of bad sleep, but the content of the message escaped me.

I dreamed I had written it down, or maybe I had written it down, and maybe that would be enough. In my nightgown and sock feet, I ascended the stairs to my kitchen and returned to my now-cold cup of tea, and found the slip of paper, where I had brought the message into the daylight for everyone to see. Here is what it said:

“Don’t take my eyes off my baby. She is just learning to walk.”

Best wishes on your new semester, Theresa. How I wish I were there, learning from you!

Rae Hallstrom

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Filed under: Mailart — Theresa Williams @ 12:57 am
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Photographs, prismacolor markers, colored pencils, and rubber stamps on Strathmore paper.

This is an illustrated letter I made for Lauren Carpenter.    The title of the letter is “In Response to Your Comments on writing about suffering.”  The front image is a photograph of Cristo with Mourning Figures.   It’s a photo I took at the Millicent Rogers Museum in Taos, NM.  This museum has a large collection of Hispanic devotional art (art that really speaks to me).  In the top corners are lemons, bottom corners hummingbirds. 

Inside the card is a scanned image of a postcard I sent to myself from New Mexico.  On the card I attempted to explain my idea of what the sculpture says about human suffering.

On the back is a photograph of a bird’s nest with eggs.  The image is partially in response to Lauren’s comment about birds (see letter 28).  I took the photo one day after I’d been working in my flower garden.  I went inside the house briefly and when I returned to the garden, the nest had already been invaded.

In the letter I try to put Lauren at ease.  Writers will always write about suffering; it’s natural to want to do so.  We do this as a way to order our thoughts because chaos is terrifying to us.  I told her that at some point she will want to write about joy again, too. 

  • Not in the letter but perhaps of interest:  Writers may enjoy the books Poetry As Survival by Gregory Orr and Writing as a Way of Healing by Louise DeSalvo. 

October 11, 2009

Special Delivery(28)

Filed under: Mailart — Theresa Williams @ 4:33 pm
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PS from Lauren

PS from Lauren

 Some letters are piling up here at The Letter Project.  I’ve been trying to decide what to post as a follow-up to Lee Martin’s wonderful letter to Amos.  When I received a letter yesterday from Lauren, I knew I wanted to post part of it.  In the letter she mentions being at the library in Columbus and running across a book she thought I’d like:  More Than Words, by Liza Kirwin, which is a collection of illustrated letters from the Smithsonian.   I plan to buy a copy of this book. 

Although much of Lauren’s letter is private, disclosing feelings about  difficulties she’s going through just now, I was deeply moved by her PS about a dead starling and am pleased to post it here, along with a scanned image of that part of the letter. 

To give some background: some time back I posted a photo on my blog of a dead baby bird.  My blog entries go straight to Facebook and are stored in my Facebook notes.  At Facebook, Lauren commented on the photo, saying how dead baby birds made her sad.  In this PS she describes finding a dead starling, its beauty, and her regret at not having removed it from the street.  She was moved to illustrate her thoughts by making a drawing of a starling.  A personal anecdote to share:  The narrator in my novel The Secret of Hurricanes is named Pearl Starling.  I don’t think Lauren knows this.  But this fact does speak to our alike-ness. 

I love the illustration in Lauren’s letter because it represents, to me, a bubbling over of thought, a further attempt to make one’s inner terrain understood.  I’m proud to be the recipient.

There is such power and potential in a letter for sharing and for making all sorts of connections, not just a connection from one person to another but also within oneself as one writes the letter.–TW


I saw a dead starling in the street on my way home.  It was lying on its side, its body very stiff; must have been hit by a car.  It had its speckled winter plumage. 

I think I identify very strongly with starlings.  I felt really bad about not stopping to move it from the street.

(Perhaps I was a bird in a past life.  Or in the next one–I wouldn’t mind)

not quite right…(drawing from a photo) very stocky birds, with a lot of personality, loud, messy, crotch[e]ty, sort of humorous

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