I Did A Poetry-Chain So You Don’t Have To

Welcome to The Revival of the Email Chain. How many have you received? My current count is five. Does that make me popular or not? From sharing recipes with strangers to feminist prose, there’s a full spectrum of inbox surprises to participate in. My suspicion is that this low-level engagement mechanism burnt out its entertainment level within the first week or two of quarantine (depending how many you received and how early on you received them). The novelty quickly wore off. However, not one to forfeit trying everything once, I chose to take part in one received from a particularly dear friend. The lucky winner?

We’ve started an email collective for an uplifting exchange through women. It’s a one-time thing and we hope you will participate. We have included those we think would be willing to participate and make it meaningful!

Please send a poem/quote/thought to the person whose name is in position 1 below (even if you don’t know them/her/him). It should be a favorite text/verse/meditation that has affected you. Don’t agonize over it. 

Don’t agonise over it? This may have been what converted me from the ‘delete’ position to taking part. Majority of the ‘agony’ lies in the decision to do it, or not to do it. Once you’ve decided, coming up with something to send isn’t too hard. Once one has made up their mind to get on board, the next instructions inform;

After you’ve sent the short poem/verse/quote/etc to the person in position #1, and only that person, copy this letter into a new email. In the text, move my name to position #1, and put your name in position #2. Only my name and your name should show in the copy of the new email. Then send the email to yourself and BCC 20 women you admire (blind copy). If you cannot do this in five days, let [name and email removed] know so it will be fair to those participating.

It’s fun to see where they come from and what they say. Seldom does anyone drop out because we all need encouragement! The turnaround is fast, as there are only two names on the list, and you only have to do it once.

Hope you enjoy and are inspired!

‘Seldom does anyone drop out’: a suspected over statement. Twenty people is quite a lot. I wonder how many mails has the initiator (name removed) received?

Nevertheless, I went ahead in the name of experimentation.

After sending a short Audre Lorde quote (one I had saved from a piece by Sara Ahmed) to position 1: Yoonha Kim, I subjected twenty of my female friends, family members, and acquaintances, to their next email chain request. The Lorde quote I sent was simply selected from a file of saved tidbits. No agony was spent indeed.

“In order to withstand the weather, we had to become stone, and now we bruise ourselves upon the other who is closest.”

Audre Lorde

The amount of responses one will be rewarded with is a calculation of exponentiality. The results indicate how many of your recipients participated, to a degree. For the 20 mails I forwarded on, I received 11 responses. Roughly a 50% hit rate, seems about expected. An older lady from Berlin whom I connected with in LA last year politely confirmed her non-involvement.

Dear ,
I am sorry, you are the second person in one day sending me this mail. And I already took part in another one last year, and the reaction of most of my friends wasn’t very amused about getting a chain mail. So, I am not taking part.
I do hope this reaches you well, with warm wishes,

Fair enough. As for the eleven pieces of ‘inspiration’ I did receive, all women interpretted the call as an opportunity to share words from other women (bar one). Majority passed on a piece from another, some shared something penned by themselves. Perhaps a sense of cynacism is palpable in these writings so far. I am pensive to the popular. However, the mails that trickled into my inbox after forwarding the chain – one by one popping in at unexpected times – provided a sense of delight. They were pleasant surprises at times unforeseen. It reminded me how amongst times of overload, it is possible to feel good getting an email.

Somehow when one receives an email chain participation request, it feels more like a chore than a gift. Though really, for the one thought you send, you receive far more in return. It calls to mind the theory that no act of generosity can be truly selfless. That every kind act cannot be seperated from the motivation to receive a certain pay-off in return – even if it is simply the warm fuzzy feeling of knowing that you have acted kindly.

Every philosophy 101 professor has heard the argument before:

1. We act as we are motivated to by our desires.
2. When we act on our desires, we are seeking the feeling of satisfaction that comes from fulfilling them.
3. Since feeling satisfied benefits us, all actions have some level of self-interest to them.

– Article: Does Altruism Exist? Science and Philosophy Weigh In.

The Results

Here are the full variety of received ‘favorite text/verse/meditations that have affected you’ that came back around to me. Some were short, some were long. Some were videos, and some came accompanied by entire books as pdfs. All were received from women, and all were drip fed to my inbox over the ensuing ten days:

“Find out who you are and do it on purpose.”

― Dolly Parton


I hope you, your family and friends are healthy in this time. Here is a poem I wrote:

Nilofer T flew away.

It isn’t exactly a light matter, so laughter is not appreciated.

In her diaries she had written her fears of lightness
Her devotion to grounding techniques
Learnt from yoga Masters and Qi’Gong YouTube
Many a times she had felt flotation
In the supermarket
A stranger’s bed
Mostly on the subway.

Alarm had given way to practice.

Breathe in breathe out
Feel your root chakra
Root you
To your roots.
Or else.

It was hard to comprehend
whether Nilofer feared death.
Her life proves the opposite.

Nilofer T flew away
After all that grounding, rooting, earthing
It was gravity that betrayed her.

Hope you have a good day.

Love Promona

Dear Ruth

I have got and email from someone.
And I want to share this ‘Plowing Song’ with you!

Love, Sofie
Excerpt from “The Laugh of the Medusa” from Hélène Cixous
(full pdf also attached)

Here’s one of my faves! 

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Mary Oliver
Wild Geese

Dear Ruth,
Nice to meet you during this trying time.
I like the next poem from Wislawa Szymborska called “Possibilities”:

I prefer movies.
I prefer cats.
I prefer the oaks along the Warta.
I prefer Dickens to Dostoyevsky.
I prefer myself liking people
to myself loving mankind.
I prefer keeping a needle and thread on hand, just in case.
I prefer the color green.
I prefer not to maintain
that reason is to blame for everything.
I prefer exceptions.
I prefer to leave early.
I prefer talking to doctors about something else.
I prefer the old fine-lined illustrations.
I prefer the absurdity of writing poems
to the absurdity of not writing poems.
I prefer, where love’s concerned, nonspecific anniversaries
that can be celebrated every day.
I prefer moralists
who promise me nothing.
I prefer cunning kindness to the over-trustful kind.
I prefer the earth in civvies.
I prefer conquered to conquering countries.
I prefer having some reservations.
I prefer the hell of chaos to the hell of order.
I prefer Grimms’ fairy tales to the newspapers’ front pages.
I prefer leaves without flowers to flowers without leaves.
I prefer dogs with uncropped tails.
I prefer light eyes, since mine are dark.
I prefer desk drawers.
I prefer many things that I haven’t mentioned here
to many things I’ve also left unsaid.
I prefer zeroes on the loose
to those lined up behind a cipher.
I prefer the time of insects to the time of stars.
I prefer to knock on wood.
I prefer not to ask how much longer and when.
I prefer keeping in mind even the possibility
that existence has its own reason for being.

Best wishes and lots of health,
Camisado by C.A. Conrad

Dear Ruth,

Here is a beautiful and essential reading from Audre Lorde.

Hope you enjoy it as much as I did,


Here’s one for today: “Those Dancing Days are Gone”, by William Butler Yeats:

Come, let me sing into your ear;
Those dancing days are gone,
All that silk and satin gear;
Crouch upon a stone,
Wrapping that foul body up
In as foul a rag:
I carry the sun in a golden cup.
The moon in a silver bag.

Curse as you may I sing it through;
What matter if the knave
That the most could pleasure you,
The children that he gave,
Are somewhere sleeping like a top
Under a marble flag?
I carry the sun in a golden cup.
The moon in a silver bag.

I thought it out this very day.
Noon upon the clock,
A man may put pretence away
Who leans upon a stick,
May sing, and sing until he drop,
Whether to maid or hag:
I carry the sun in a golden cup,
The moon in a silver bag.

William Butler Yeats

Found a music video of it, I had not heard that before! Appears to be shot in Paris.

Yours, AV.

Dear Ruth, I’m sending you this quote from Meryl Streep that I really admire. I first saw her as an actress in the movie Kramer vs. Kramer in 1982, I was 18 years old! I cried so much during the whole movie!!! Then I always followed this woman, in her films but also in her engagements, her courageous speeches.

I hope that my e-mail finds you in good health and that you spend these weeks of “life in brackets” as well as possible. Maybe you find the time and energy to discover those things for which we never take the time.

Best to you, Annette

I no longer have patience for certain things, not because I’ve become arrogant, but simply because I reached a point in my life where I do not want to waste more time with what displeases me or hurts me.

I have no patience for cynicism, excessive criticism and demands of any nature.

I lost the will to please those who do not like me, to love those who do not love me and to smile at those who do not want to smile at me.

I no longer spend a single minute on those who lie or want to manipulate. I decided not to coexist anymore with pretense, hypocrisy, dishonesty and cheap praise. I do not tolerate selective erudition nor academic arrogance.

I do not adjust either to popular gossiping. I hate conflict and comparisons. I believe in a world of opposites and that’s why I avoid people with rigid and inflexible personalities. In friendship I dislike the lack of loyalty and betrayal.

I do not get along with those who do not know how to give a compliment or a word of encouragement.

Exaggerations bore me and I have difficulty accepting those who do not like animals.

And on top of everything I have no patience for anyone who does not deserve my patience.

Meryl Streep

The last quote from Meryl Streep is perhaps my favourite. Not for its content per se, but because of who it came from. I received this extract from a woman who shares the surname of my friend Clara. Following this reciprocal email, I noted to Clara that I had received a poignant piece from somebody in her family, an assumed sister or cousin. Clara replied;

I was soooooo touched reading your convo with my mother! (i never knew she liked meryl streep that bad!!) so surreal to think you were both chattiinnnng kindaaalove it!

After All…

To summarise, these circulating email chains can add something to the moment. I’d say, don’t knock it til you try it. I would have never come across the line ‘I prefer the hell of chaos to the hell of order‘ without it. Nor would I have gained insight into Clara’s mother’s appreciation for Meryl Streep. The delight of receiving a surprise piece of wise song at an unexpected moment, was worth it. They came as coincedences, as if sent from the universe at moments I needed that perk. That thought from another. A subtle divergence, though related nevertheless, I want to end on an aphorism I stumbled upon this morning from Baudrillard, a happy coincedence about the happy coincedence.

When happy events coincide, that is a happy coincidence. But the co­incidence of baneful events is a happy coincidence too. Every coincidence is happy, for it gives the mind a spiritual pleasure. And, no doubt, the very greatest happiness is afforded by the pleasure which coincidences bring. If not, would it really be a pleasure to be happy?

Jean Baudrillard, Cool Memories (1980-1990)

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