On my desk is a book of Sylvia Plath’s letters that she wrote to her mother. I read her novel The Bell Jar in my early teens and I remember parts of the book but never really wanted to read much more of her work after that. I brought the collection of letters on a whim at some point while I was at university and it has been in every studio space, big or small, that I have had since. Sometimes there are things around you that you don’t realise are important for quite some time.
The series of Dear Visitor letters occurred while I was struggling to find form for the large body of research made during the residency with Mission Gallery. Almost every morning I had at the studio I would go to visit the free bookshop first before I did any work. Set up to save unwanted books from landfill ‘customers’ are allowed to take three free books per day. Needless to say I have acquired some amazing books through my continual visits and searching through their sometimes peculiar Dewey Decimal System.
One of my favourite categories is ‘Makes You Think’ where I found a copy of beat poet Gregory Corso’s Gasoline, that was a small run of 15,000, disguised under a Support Your Local Squatting Group flyer. On another visit I found in the education section a copy of The Teach Yourself Letter Writer. This series of books have particularly appealing covers with blocks of black and yellow and the rather square typeface that just screams 1950’s publishing. The book begins with a chapter on layout and information required for writing letters, then moving onto types of letter and the language appropriate for each; such as business, neighbours, letters of friendship and even letters of love, courtship and marriage. (For the less inspired lover.) Needless to say the book is now very dated and a hilarious read but somehow I got to a point where I decided, after making some failed photographs and bad video with dull voiceovers, that I would just write a letter for each day for the visitors of Mission Gallery.
I began the letters on my typewriter using some paper from an old notebook that had been unsuccessful. It was good to use the ripped paper. It felt un-precious and I could just get on with writing. It was always my childhood dream to write and illustrate my own book. When I was growing up my parents had a typewriter that I would use to write my stories on and I would pretend I was the author of a book.
Now I have a pile of letters which tell stories about my residency. The things I’ve discovered or remembered; walks through woodlands, friends sending me photographs of orchids, things I saw, memories I had or the plants growing in my living room. They are unedited and the thought of showing them as they are is a little worrying. My spelling, grammar and punctuation aren’t very good, or maybe that should be isn’t very good, and it is scary to let the world see your flaws but I didn’t want to ruin these letters by making them perfect.
I have only read Sylvia Plath’s letters in parts, but when I first dived in I read the last letters first. I, like many people, was morbidly curious at the story of her suicide. The last letters are surprising upbeat, there is maybe the odd mention that she is not feeling herself, or maybe a bit down but you would never think that she was going to gas herself in the oven. Even in the letters to her own mother Sylvia wasn’t really telling the exact truth.