by Helen Savage
A note on a letter
I recently went to see a showcase of work by Gloria E. Anzaldúa at the Women’s Art Library. For those who don’t know of her or her work, Gloria E. Anzaldúa describes herself as: ‘Chicana, tejana, working-class, dyke-feminist poet, writer-theorist.’ In the reading room and foyer was a ‘Thought Gallery’. Framed A4 colour illustrations hung the walls, originally transparencies used to explore and communicate thoughts, ideas, and feelings during her talks- when words were not enough.
Included in the exhibition were sound recordings and key publications including the anthology ‘This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color’ (1981). I picked out the anthology and inside found a text by Anzaldúa; its form was a letter. The title of the text is ‘Speaking In Tongues, A Letter to Third World Women’. The address is women writers of color, and the piece is written in English and her native Chicano Spanish. The text begins —
Dear Mujeres d clor, companions in writing—
I sit here naked in the sun, typewriter against my knee, trying to visualize you. Black woman huddles over a desk in the fifth floor of some New York tenement. Sitting on a porch in south Texas, a Chicana fanning away mosquitos and the hot air, trying to arouse the smoldering embers of writing. Indian woman walking to school or work, lamenting the lack of time to weave writing into your life. Asian American, lesbian, single mother, tugged in all directions by children, lover, or ex-husband and the writing.
It is not easy writing this letter. It began as a poem, a long poem. I tried to turn it into an essay but the result was wooden, cold. I have not yet unlearned the esoteric bullshit and pseudo intellectualizing that school brainwashed into my writing.
How to begin again. How to approximate the intimacy and immediacy I want. What form? A letter, or course.
The letter is a few pages long, and is a powerful call to women of colour to write about their own lives, through their own specificity and through their own bodies. For Anzaldúa the rhetorical and personal form of the letter is the best or perhaps the only way to communicate this – the only way to commune (the only way to communicate intimately) when other writing forms can be ‘wooden, cold’, when other writing forms were not enough.
Helen Savage is a visual artist and writer based in London. She has recently shown drawings in exhibitions Pieces, Moon In Aries at Penarth Centre London in 2018 and A Second Tribute to JB at Spit and Sawdust Cardiff in 2017. She currently runs a monthly poetry group called Poetry and Wellbeing at John Harvard Library.