13. The Letter Poem: Write a poem using words from a famous letter or a letter from your own collection.
“You are my lover and I am your mistress, and kingdoms and empires and governments have tottered and succumbed before now to that mighty combination – the most powerful in the world” – Extract from a letter from Violet Keppel to Vita Sackville-West (1919).
I truly believed that we could change the world, you and I. Well maybe not the world. But our worlds. We created a little world for ourselves. Fantasies, games. I was feverish for you, desperate for you to transport me yet again. You are a true artist, Vita. A true artist can take someone away to another place through their art, and this is what you did to me. You took me away, made me feel that I was different. That I was beguiling, a dark and sparkling woman who turned your head. But when you left, Vita,when you left, you dropped me unceremoniously back into this world, dull and grey as it is. And as I hit the ground all the magic seeped out of me, like air wheezing from an old sofa. And I was myself once again, dumpy and unoriginal, while you carried on as before, seducing others, reminding me that you, yes you, were the beguiling one, not me, no, of course, of course not me. You were the master of the games all along; you were holding all the cards, while I, foolish dog that I was, followed you with my tail wagging.
You made me feverish, Vita. I felt that I had to have you, otherwise nothing made sense any more, not one jot. Is it sad to miss a fantasy? But how much was fantasy, and how much was real? My head hurts.
Vita. The lights are so bright here. Everyone is so false, their teeth too white, their voices too loud…my head hurts. Too much drink, Vita, too much smoke…the smoke gets in your head, you know?
I know you loved me, Vita. But you didn’t trust me, you didn’t believe me…
Why couldn’t they have left us alone? Left us alone to play, just play, we weren’t harming anyone, play never hurt anyone?
I was feverish, mad. I always wonder about the mad. Who are we to say they would be happier, bungled and botched like the rest of us? Why don’t we let them be if they aren’t hurting anyone?
I would never hurt you Vita.
Another unsent letter. This shall go to the smoke like the others.
Violet Trefusis and Vita Sackville-West had a long affair, starting when they were just teenagers. The affair ended after Vita accused Violet of breaking their pact (to never have sex with either of their husbands). Vita went on to have affairs with other women and men, most famously Virginia Woolf. Violet went into decline in her later years in France, and I imagined her writing this letter during that time. if you would like to learn more about their relationship I greatly recommend reading Diana Souhami’s Mrs Keppel and Her Daughter.