The Lost Art of the Greeting

My guest today is Magdalena Ball who runs The Compulsive Reader. Her short stories, editorials, poetry, reviews and articles have appeared in a wide number of printed anthologies and journals. She is also the author of the poetry book Repulsion Thrust, the novel Sleep Before Evening, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment: How to Review Anything and three other poetry chapbooks Quark Soup, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Cherished Pulse and She Wore Emerald Then.

The Lost Art of the Greeting

by Magdalena Ball

Sending a quick greeting is an easy thing these days.  Just pop a line or two onto an email message (eg HAPPY BIRTHDAY JOSH), and off it goes.  Do we even need to bother with that?  After all, we’re all connected on social networks these days.  On my birthday this year about 30 people I didn’t know (and a similar number that I did) wished me a very happy birthday.  I could wish my whole family Happy Chanukah with a single status update on Facebook.  Or maybe I could pop down to the shop and pick up a card to say it for me: “On Valentine’s Day/just wanted to say/you make my life special/in every way.”

But what does “special” mean?  Do I really mean “every way” (maybe not every single way…).  The problem with greetings is that they really can’t be done without effort.  If you dash off something slapdash and fast, the meaning behind the action gets lost.  In other words, passing on easy cliché may be less meaningful than no words at all.  The whole point of taking the time to say something important to someone is to make a connection.  It’s easy to miss those connections in this fast paced, multi-tasking world of ours.  Let’s see – I’ll cook dinner, finish a business report, bathe the kids, and send off a greeting card to my mother in the next hour.  If you don’t personalise or try to say something that really captures how you feel in a way that is powerful and moving, the whole point of taking the time to make that communication is lost.

When someone gives me a gift or card, what I really want is for them to have spent a few minutes thinking about me.  That’s the gift – the little bit of thought.  A gift or card that says – you actually are in my thoughts.  It’s very difficult to do that with cliché.  Much better to use poetry, where each word is carefully constructed – thought out, pulled together to create meaning that is entirely novel.  That was the thinking behind the Celebration series of poetry that Carolyn Howard-Johnson and I began pulling together some years ago.  We wanted to create little, beautiful gift books of poetry that wasn’t cliché ridden or syrupy, but instead looked closely at particular themes like “love”, holidays, fatherhood and motherhood, and captured something distinctive and new about that theme.  Although the books feature lovely, full colour artwork, most are only $6.95 – about the price of a high end greeting card.  This is definitely a cliché free zone!   The book features a beautiful Poinsettia painting on the cover by prize-winning artist Vicki Thomas, and the books can be bought in packs of 25 for only $3 each (Put HOLIDAY ORDER in the subject line and send an e-mail to to organise a set).  The individual book can be found at:

Here’s a sample poem, which can also be listened to (in the author’s own voice) at The Compulsive Reader.

Silent Symphony

Though it’s calm in the dark room

where you sit on Christmas eve

reaching for familiarity

I’ll take you down

to that imperfect place

of tone and sound

beyond culture’s skin, language

hard wired clickity clack

auditory parasite

multiples of frequencies

simple-ratio harmonies or complex

carols of memory

down there

in the consonance of memory

walking the cobblestones of imagination

your black heart finds light

melodic intervals

of sensation more pervasive than chance

open your ears into the silence

a symphony

vibrating  the universe of your illusory body.

More on Magdalena Ball can be found at her website.

To learn more about another author, check out Kathy Stemke’s blog tomorrow. She’s featuring Stephen Tremp who has just had his first action suspense novel released: Breakthrough.

Published in: on November 13, 2010 at 6:00 am  Comments (9)  
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9 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Magdalena, your words always move me. I agree that we have become complacent in our communications with one another. Your poems are a beautiful reminder of what can be done with a few well chosen words.

    Heidi, thank you for sharing this with us.

  2. I’ve read that people have different “love languages,” or ways that make them feel loved that they use to express love to others. Giving your little poetry books expresses love in two of those ways, words and gifts so they should make lots of people feel loved.

  3. It’s nice to read about someone else who tires of the same cliched greeting cards. I’ve found this true when looking for a card for a special person — they just aren’t there! So I make my own cards, incorporating my own message, though not poetry that reads what I really want to say. What a wonderful suggestion of using one’s own style of poetry…

    Thank you, Magdalena, for sharing your poet’s insight for designing special greetings. And to Heidi who finds the neatest people to interview here!!


  4. Thanks for the positive comments everyone. Just by way of a follow-up, Joyce White has written a lovely review of Blooming Red here:

  5. Heidi, thank you so much for featuring Maggie. She is a poet-treasure, indeed. And of course!–by extension–our Blooming Red chapbook. We’re excited about the possibilities here for poetry! (-:


  6. What a wonderful poem. I think the books would be great gifts. I agree with your comment “The problem with greetings is that they really can’t be done without effort.”
    In my house for birthdays and special occasions, we have to make the card and really put some thought and effort into it.

  7. Magdalena, thank you for guesting on my blog–this is a refreshing idea.

    And thanks to all of you for stopping by and commenting! It’s fun to have a dialogue here.

  8. Maggie, I agree, it’s important to pause and acknowledge those close to us and others we want to connect to.

    This internet – faster than speed of light – age has time hanging on by a thread.

    Your latest poetry book sounds like a perfect gift for showing you care.

  9. In a world where convenience and social media have taken over it is easy to forget how touching a personalized note can be. Does it take longer? More energy? More thought? Yes, yes, and yes. However, the impact of a personalized note can be truly powerful.

    Heidi, thanks for sharing Magdalena’s post and for stopping by Mindful Banter during Blog Jog Day.

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