The “Dear Emily,” Pen Pal Poetry Exchange: Adopting a Voice for our Foster Children
From the first day I was born, I was a ward of the state; I was an orphan. I spent
approximately eight and half years in a San Jose, Santa Clara County orphanage. According to reports, during that time, I was shuffled between ten or more foster homes.
To this day, I don’t remember many moments within that time frame. I have scarce images of playing outside or interacting with children in an outside world. We were always inside waiting, waiting for something or someone to take us out of the shelter, to be seen by the outside, to exist and engage, to be part of those that were living externally. I do remember wanting someone to talk to, to share and communicate about whatever possessions
I had: a doll, a stuffed toy, a cot, a pillow, which were not necessarily mine, and I had a blue suitcase. However, communicating means, you need someone to listen to you, to be heard, which acknowledges your existence. The listener was minimal, if at all, and thus most children are left with feelings of abandonment, feelings of being ignored to loneliness. Everyone needs an outside source for interaction. It’s a basic human need. My writing began here. I wrote (or made up) myself stories, and then, as I read them, I pretended someone else was reading them, I then would reply to the writer. I became the writer, the reader, and the replier.
As a writer, I believe in what I call “The Trinity” of writing: writing, reading, and replying. By writing, we should engage the reader; we should invite them to connect and interact with the words and context of the text. Once we as readers become engaged, the reading entices ideas, thoughts, emotions, and
expressions. These feelings are a response, and without knowing it, we have in a way replied to the writing. As a writer, it is not only writing for self, but to activate a conversation and that conversation can take the form of replying by writing prose, poetry, music, or by drawing.
At Northeastern Illinois University, I was introduced to my love of writing poetry, and by doing so, I became familiar with the works of Emily Dickinson. I became an instant admirer. Needless to say, I may have a bit of an obsession. Not only is Dickinson considered one of the most famous poets in the history of American literature she is also known for her socially shy demeanor and her reclusiveness. Dickinson is also widely known for her unique and somewhat cryptic writings on envelopes and letters. By living a solitary life, her letters
became a shared, intimate communication towards the outside world. When publishing her work, she did with a man’s name not allowing her to be visible. Writing letters to friends and family gave her notice and the world eventually connected her to her published works.
I believe there is a need for foster children to have this intimate form of communication with other like children. My hope is to form a nonprofit poetry, pen pal project in which foster children write poems, write stories, draw pictures, as well as thoughts and interactions of their daily lives connecting and exchanging with other foster children in both the U.S. and internationally. By compacting my young life in an orphanage with Dickinson’s sheltered writing styles on envelopes and letters, I’m calling this project, “Dear Emily.”
I plan on applying for a nonprofit license. I plan on finding sources that may donate paper, pencils, and stamps. I plan on calling adoption facilities to pitch my idea, and if they agree, their address will be part of the circulation.
I spend many waking hours thinking about the children in adoption centers, and I now want to be the listener; I want to help and engage. I don’t want them to feel abandoned, ignored, and I don’t want them to feel they will be left in the waiting room. I want their faces to come off the bureaucratic paperwork. I want them to know they exist. I want them to be able to communicate their existence.
5/5/2020: With the resurrection of this site, I will be expanding this project and currently am in communication with a local children’s center. Yay!