Dear Elena, Letters to Elena Ferrante, Poems by Tina Cane ff. I feel quite privileged to have number 136 of 150 copies of this gorgeous book with artwork by Esther Solondz. (Other printed versions are available too). My project of reading books by the Friends community has led me to other works, just so I could get a handle on allusions. For Anne Waldman’s book I read Blake’s The Book of Thel, for Camille Guthrie’s, I went back to the Brothers Grimm, and for this work, I read My Brilliant Friend by the novelist who goes by the pseudonym Elena Ferrante. I was rewarded for my trouble (actually it was no trouble at all but a real pleasure) in the very first of these poem/letters by the connection between the doll named Tina in Ferrante’s novel and the poet Tina.
The novel concerns a friendship fraught with competition and bound by love. The letters reflect a similar, if unrequited, relationship between the poet and the novelist. One theme which occurs in both works is that of borders; the defined quality of individuals can become fuzzy. The poet feels invisible except for “the hem of flesh and blood.” Through the power of words, mind and body can collapse in on each other. Static can creep into the song.
The poet’s desire to forge true and good tools for poetry is compared to a “a cobbler’s daughter hammering in the night.” One of the friends in My Brilliant Friend is just such a cobbler’s daughter. And so it is that two artists speaking two tongues (Ferrante writes in Italian) can be “like sister cities.” In the final letter, the poet spells out the need for company, for a way, perhaps through reading the works of kindred souls, to go through life less alone.