Lovers’ Letters


Installation views from Kestle Barton, October 2012.

Lover’s Letters began when my lover started to send me letters and poetry through the post. He lives only a few miles away. An avid letter writer all my life, technology and time, had finally eroded my letter-writing tendencies, so I was delighted.

A reciprocal conversation followed and follows, that must be differentiated from any other dialogue, verbal or written. I am still trying to tease out what is different about letters.

Letters are written for an audience of one. As A.S. Byatt writes in Possession, letters,

‘exclude not only the reader as co-writer…..but they exclude the reader as reader, they are written if they are true letters, for a reader’ (p. 131).

It is this that I have tried to re-capture in representing letters for others. As the letters are fictionalized and contain only references, and indices of original texts, they are not ‘true’ letters. They can only be representations of such.

A.S. Byatt’s character Beatrice writes:

‘There are poets whose love poems seem to be concerned neither with praise nor blame…..but with true conversation between men and women. [These] poems present every phrase of intimacy…….but always convince the reader of the real thinking and feeling presence of her to whom they are addressed’. She was proud of conversation which she had chosen in preference to the more obvious dialogue’.

Although writing of poetry, the two things: letters and poetry seem intimately bound and are both used in this project. Both letters and poetry are indeed intimate ‘conversations’, and I have endeavoured to capture this…….

Theoretically I like the notion of dialogue/dialogism, and use both letters and poetry to explore this notion. Leiman writes of the assumption that every utterance has an addressee. The central question is: To whom is the person speaking? Usually, we think of one listener as the immediately observable addressee. However, the addressee is rather a multiplicity of others, a complex web of invisible others, whose presence can be traced in the content, flow and expressive elements of the utterance, I’m directly addressing you but while speaking I’m protesting to a third person who is invisibly present in the conversation.  Whilst this could merely refer to our different selves, by impliction there is more:

‘Any true understanding is dialogic in nature…in essence, meaning belongs to a word in its position between speakers…[its] meaning is realised only in a process of active, responsive understanding’ (Tim Beasley-Smith on Bahktin, p.91)

It is this ‘active, responsive understanding’ that I wanted to capture in the sequential letter format, and by intentionally including an audience, form a different position between speakers. The endeavour is to share a private exchange or conversation , and invite others to be part of ‘a complex web of invisible others’, who form different meanings and connections in a relay of language, the expression, form, and interpretation, changed by the site, and context of the texts……