The Lost Art of Letter-Writing


She slowly unfolds the paper, and it crinkles in her hands as she smoothes it against the skirts of her dress. The first thing she does before reading it is to bring it up to her lips, breathe deep of its scent, and smile, wide and free.


Dear People of the Internet,


My generation is one of texters, snappers, and tweeters. Any sentiment that cannot be expressed in 140 characters (or less) is quickly discarded, trimmed, or divided into tweet-able, text-able chunks.


Sometimes, it’s poetry. Sometimes, one doesn’t need more than 140 characters to say what they mean, but more often than not, the message is just one in an endless deluge of trillions of others sent by the billions of people with access to a mobile device.


At risk of sounding like I am an immortal being born two centuries ago, I quite frankly miss the days where you sent your lover clandestine letters under the cover of darkness, or kept up with your mother through long, rambling letters that still smelt faintly of her cooking.


Don’t get me wrong – I don’t miss the really old days, the ones when it took years to get a letter from your family in the New World, providing neither the ship carrying the original letter nor the reply sunk on its long and treacherous journey across the Atlantic.


Rather, I miss the letter-writing habits of my mother’s generation, and that of her mother before her. I yearn for the thoughtfulness it takes to put pen to paper and pour your deepest secrets onto the page. I miss the special little touches and flairs of personality both senders would adorn their letters with. I long for the days when communication was not instantaneous.


In a world where communication with people around the world is limited only by the speed of our network connections, complex, nuanced thoughts are left behind. They hover, phantom-like, at the periphery of our mind, begging to be expressed, but they do not fit the mold of today’s fast-paced, speed-of-light communication. There is a real pressure to condense and simplify our thoughts until all subtleties are stripped away, replaced by trite clichés and overused metaphors. Those thoughts flare and fade, seafoam on the shoreline being boiled away by the apricity of the sun in the winter.


Even in poetry, there has been a motion towards shorter, more compressed forms. Some poets take it upon themselves to compose their works of literature within the 140-character limit. Flash fiction is becoming more popular than ever. If brevity were a horse, then everyone, it seems, would jump on its bandwagon. What is at stake is revealed by asking oneself where, exactly, this horse and its wagonload of tweet-happy, tech-savvy youths are heading?


Maybe it’s just me. Perhaps I’m just a cynic, but it’s clear to me, having been isolated from social media as a teenager, that the edge of the cliff is fast approaching, and that today’s youth are speeding towards it as they age into tomorrow’s workforce. One doubts they’ll be impressed by the brevity of the fall; it’s a long way down.


“Ur hot” is a far cry from Sonnet 18. “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” has had its essential organs removed, and has suffered a lobotomy to boot.


It certainly gets the point across, but at what cost? At the cost of poetry, at the expense of beauty? Yes, times change, and so must we, but the sacrifice of our language for ‘text-speak’ is like exchanging a banquet for a single piece of fruit. The so-called prize of brevity seems like a meager consolation. The price we’ve paid in words and in sentiments for our communication to keep up with our fast-paced lives is far too high for comfort.


What happened to stopping to smell the metaphorical roses? What became of sitting down with a writing instrument and some stationery to pen a thoughtful letter? Where, pray-tell, did letter-writing go to take to its deathbed, and why is my generation doing utterly nothing to stop it?


It is any wonder that our interpersonal relationships are in tatters because of social media? It takes no courage to ‘troll’ someone. There is no valor in telling a woman of your undying affection if you do it through text messaging.


So much is lost when we separate ourselves by our devices. We are so far removed from each other that even when sitting next to one another, young lovers will be texting others on their phones. What is the point of a mobile communication device if all it does is cheapen our conversations, rob us of the nuances of our language, and compress our thoughts into character-limited shadow versions of their original selves?


There is so much complexity and beauty in every human language. There are long-winded metaphors, rambling comparisons, flowery poetry. There’s the give and take of body language, and the clues given by inflection, and the tell-tale signs of defeat or joy or any myriad of emotions playing themselves out across our features.


I think my generation likes to think that social media and texting bring us closer together. Certainly, it makes the world a smaller place, but we are further removed than we’ve ever been from one another. Our machines and corporations like Twitter decide upon the quality of the thoughts expressed through them. Not every thought can be condensed, chained and constrained by the limits of texting and tweeting.


I have a confession to make. Ninety percent of the texts I send serve not to bring me closer to my friends, but rather to isolate me. We sit in different rooms, in separate cities, intently starting at our screens and watching the infernal ‘typing’ symbol. I feel anything but connected in that moment. All I can think, doing my part as a twenty-something woman to try to keep in touch, is that I am alone in an empty room, waiting for empty words stripped bare of nuance and complexity.


Even calling them is not an option. “Why didn’t you just text me?” people of my generation will ask, seemingly confused by the engagement of their vocal chords rather than their thumbs.


Soon enough, talking on the phone will have retired to the Southern Hemisphere, alongside the fast-dying art of letter-writing.


And one day, when my generation is personified by an aging gentleman furiously texting his grandchildren, the children will laugh while letter-writing is slain by ever-faster modes of communication, and Mr. Millennial, drawing one last ragged breath, will look up from his phone and wonder how, with his 547 Facebook friends, and 1320 Twitter followers, he ended up so very alone.


Maybe he should have written a letter instead.




Caitlin Cacciatore – Poet, Space Opera Novelist, and Letter Writer Extraordinaire


Shadow Land



She is pleased

On inauspicious days,

Days when the sun rises so red

That you’d swear it’d been painted

With the blood of ten thousand cowards.


She rejoices

In the sharp, salt tang of treason;

She’s a city-slicker, picker of fights;

For her, valor is not a good enough reason,

And youth is the only worthy season.


She’s the one who sways our hips,

Licks our lips, sips

Her coffee as her eyes meet yours,

And she is like the moon,

Bright and bare,

And it is she

With whom you fall hopelessly in love;

I sometimes wonder –

Will you settle with me,

Or would you rather I surrender,

To she?




I can think of no better metaphor

Than the glorifying sun

Yielding to the inkwell of the night

At the end of everything;

Time – such a cruel mistress –

Finally running out,

The sand in the hourglass

Surrendering the last of itself

At the journey’s end;

And, at long last, it was over.

A Letter to Myself



It’s one of those nights.


One where the stars are too still in their orbits,

And I can imagine the scent of your perfume

Lazily wafting its way around the room,

And a love song – French, because those are the kind you liked best –

Is lingering in the air,

A mere whisper

Competing with the sounds of the rain

Tapping its melody upon the windowpane,

And the train hurtling through space and time,

Carrying me far from where I was,

Yet bringing me no closer to where I meant to be,

And the fruits of my youth lay wasted at my feet,

And a kind of melancholy that only visits me when I think of you

 Like a cloak I put upon shoulders so that I can wear your sorrows,

If only so you can dream a dream of peace, tonight,

Has taken hold,

And I burn and yearn to make right my wrongs,

To make my peace with my Gods,

And I sit here, staring into your soul,

So revealed in the brights of the eyes I see reflected back at me,

And I pray for both of our salvations,

And I blink and you are gone;

One of those nights

When I wish I could take wing

And travel back through time to be where you are.



It’s one of those nights.




Every mirror

Reflects the ghost of you,

Staring back at me through narrowed eyes,

Beseeching me to follow you down –

Wide is the road, or so it has been said –

Down into Hell,

Down into oblivion and abandon,

Down into the darkest depths

Of my heart and my soul,

Upon which the sun

Is always setting

And whose waters

I am forever failing to tread.


The glassy surface of the lake

Shows a different side of you, though,

Wide-eyed and radiant –

Exactly as you were,

When the world was young,

And so were we.


I will drown, either way;

Tis a fitting end,

Says that part of me

That burnt up, and was burnt down,

By the starlight

I found, shining, in the blinding brightness

That didn’t strike me

Until after I’d gazed into your eyes

For the last time

In a lifetime.




My past blew away like smoke,

Fire and lightening streaking

Through the clouds,

Plumes of ash billowing up through the blackness,

As I, electrified, stood enraptured,

In the eye of the storm,


The opportunity to sink down to my knees

And worship

At the altar of my weakness,

To watch, helpless,

As the ocean of my youth receded,

And to rise, dazzled,

As the stars emerged on that cloudless night,


Making the broad brushstroke of the galaxy

Shine with the brilliance of one of those Arctic sunrises

On those mystical days when the sun still rises,

But defiantly fails to set,

Not forever,

But just long enough

To say, victorious,

“I prevailed.”