Letter From a Young Poet (Lauren D. Woods)

A Memo to My Supervisor in Response to My Mid-Year Performance Review

From: Rainer Maria Rilke (the Austrian poet best known for my 1929 collection of letters about the writing life, Letters to a Young Poet)

Dear Sirs,

You wanted my update on the strategic plan? I am asking you to be patient toward all that is unsolved within it, to try to love the plan intself, which is like a book written in a foreign tongue. Objectives? Activities? They are like thread passing through fabric, giving shape to images we ourselves do not know. And in any case, you should not try to seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live the questions as they are.

I do recognize the deadline was in September, but I believe one ought to let everything happen to you. Beauty and terror, just keep going. Nothing is truly final. Fifty times I’ve wanted to get to this project since receiving your reminder, but I couldn’t get to it. There is so much that I need to get through right now.

A billion stars go spinning in the night, glittering above, and you, sir, are worried about my monthly report? If you would calmly dive into your own increasing depths, you might find instead that life gives you its own report. It’s coming anyhow, be patient. If you are patient in a moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow. 

My dedication to the task? Dear sir, don’t torment me with your doubts. Why do you want to persecute yourself with the question of where all of this is coming from, and where it is going? Since you know, after all, that you are in the midst of a strategic transition, and you yourself wished for nothing so much as change. Rest assured, it is coming.

Truly, I do not even recall you asking me to communicate more. At bottom, and just in the deepest and most important things, we are unutterably alone, and for one person to be able to advise or even help another, a lot must go well, a whole constellation of things must come right in order once to succeed. Please, as I mentioned in my first interview, and I had hoped you would recall, solitude is my lot. I implore those who love me to love my solitude.

Do not ask me what I do between the hours of 9 and 5. What I do flows from me like a river, no forcing and no holding back, the way it is with children. I spend my time on a journey, a journey deep inside myself.

Furthermore, I was not asleep at my desk. How dare you? I do not have to remain bent over my pages. In fact, I often lean back and close my eyes over a line that I have been reading again, and let its meaning spread through my blood.

Finally, I must confess I cannot accept your feedback. Any attempt at criticism is foreign to me. Nothing touches my life so little as words of criticism. They always result in misunderstandings. Besides, most experiences are unsayable, they happen in a space that no word has ever entered, and more unsayable than all other things is the work I do, this mysterious existence whose life endures beside our own small, transitory life. Remember, no one can truly advise you or help you or me—no one.

With this all as preface, I must suggest that if my work fails to satisfy you, if your everyday life seems poor, don’t blame me; blame yourself; admit to yourself that you are not enough of a poet to call forth life’s riches.

  • RMR


Lauren D. Woods lives and writes in Washington, DC. Her fiction and essays have appeared in The Antioch Review, The Normal School, Hippocampus Magazine, Fiction Southeast, LitHub, and elsewhere. She tweets @Ladiwoods1.


image: Jade Hawk is a meat popsicle.