Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Creative Correspondence: New Resource Guide Now Available

What is creative correspondence?

Outside the doors of 743 Westminster Street sits a blue box with a semicircular top. You affix a sticker to a package, slip of paper, or envelope; write a destination; and then you drop it into the box and off it goes into the world to be delivered to the destination. What is even more incredible than this whole structured act of sending is that someone, somewhere, receives that thing you put out into the mail. And what’s even more exciting is that they might reply… Now if you affix a stamp to your forehead and walk down to the post office in a cardboard box, it won’t work. We tried; there is a video to prove it. But we did explore the wide range of what could be sent via the US Postal service.

During the summer of 2008 we spent six weeks exploring mail art and other forms of creative correspondence. There is a new resource guide publication from this Art Inquiry available for purchase here and for free download here. Also check out our online resources on mail art, including live-video demonstrations and a large archive of letters written to Providence that we collected through a public letter writing project called Dear Providence.

Below is a reflection from that summer by scholar and artist in residence, Rick Benjamin. Rick is a poet and educator in Providence, RI. Check out his recent publication, Passing Love here

When we stopped writing letters we lost an intimate form, the epistolary equivalent of what Virginia Woolf says is a little language such as lovers use. Meanwhile, our emails are as full of disclosure as postcards, teen-aged & even middle-aged relationships end in text messages, we communicate almost to our heart's gratification on G-chat, Skype & I.M.- the agility of our communications is startling, the content remarkably dull.

When I was away from New Urban Arts that summer I wrote postcards: some of them were absurd, some had poems on them, some of them were imagined letters that would hint at intimacies only suggested. None of them had anything to do with the pictures or scenes depicted front-side: no grand canyons or monuments here; but for a week I kept track of my own imaginative transits through these snapshot-correspondences & also risked circulating them to a few others, my Providence Letter-Posse back at New Urban Arts.

Before I'd left the city for Maine & then Vermont, a group of us from the studio on Westminster had gone to the North Burial Ground in Providence, a very old cemetery in one of America's oldest cities. It was a wicked hot August day. Back at the studio I'd been talking about La Dia de los Muertes, & how a 9th Century Japanese poet had said, "I'm alive, right? Don't we say that? We don't think about the bones we walk on." which certainly didn't seem to cheer them up; I followed up this chestnut of uplifting wisdom by invoking the notion of talking to the dead. Ok, so I wasn't exactly distinguishing myself as a workshop leader, but my excuse was that I'd thrown my back out the day before; it had taken me 2 ½ hours just to get out of bed this morning; my friend, Julie, had given me a massage just so I could stand up bent over. In terms of correspondence, I was half-way into the grave myself.

Writing letters to the unremembered dead was the best I could come up with that day. In retrospect, I'd make the following case for the exercise, & chalk up my good but unconscious intentions to muscle relaxants. First, writing letters is an august activity, a performance with some demonstrable wisdom behind it. I have no doubt that emails & perhaps even text-messages will catch up, but for the moment they are not repositories for really good thinking or the sweetest forms of intimacy or life instructions. Second, writing letters to the dead, stays, for the moment, our unremitting dread of dying. It asks us to find connections, to find correspondences across time, to see our own lives as part of a vast continuum. And, finally, writing letters to a strangers downs barriers of difference, asking us to imagine their lives, to inhabit them (at least for the duration of the making), to stop being afraid even of the most fearful strangers of all-- the ones within us.

Rick Benjamin


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