August POetry POstcard Fest

cardsThis month I’ve been having fun with postcard poetry. I first heard about it at the Austin International Poetry Festival during a workshop. The teacher (sadly I forget who gave the class, just remember how cool it was) brought in a bunch of postcards – plain manila, onto which she’d scanned some nifty pics. We had 4 min to write a poem directly onto each card – no rewrites or do-overs.

Turned out to be great fun. She told us about an on-line postcard poetry festival in August, so when I got home I googled and discovered Paul E. Nelson, who turns out to be a pretty paul nelsoncool guy, passionate about poetry.

Some people have a daily spiritual practice. Paul writes an American Sentence every morning.  Allen Ginsberg invented them. Here’s how Paul describes the form:

ginsbergAmerican Sentences as a poetic form was Ginsberg’s effort to make American the haiku. If haiku is seventeen syllables going down in Japanese text, he would make American Sentences seventeen syllables going across, linear, like just about everything else in America.

“Four skinheads stand in the streetlight rain chatting under an umbrella.”
~1987 Allen Ginsberg
“The ice cream shop is closed during snow storms and I must eat clam chowder”
~2013 Cathryn Shea
“After the phone rings there’s a cold spot on my hip where your hand was.”

~5.11.01 Paul Nelson

Vanity Fair poem

vanity Fair PostcardTo return to the postcards- I don’t know who came up with the idea – probably it happened soon after the first postcard was invented. The fest works like this:

1)Gather together 31 postcards- if you are anything like me you already have a whole box full of old postcards tucked away – if you’re not like me they are probably filed neatly somewhere. If you really are nothing like me you could buy generic blanks. Alternatively, you could  print, scan, paint, ink, collage or decoupage thirty-one tiny works of art. I’ve also found you can cut the covers off old birthday, anniversary, friend & get well cards (also stashed) and recycle them as postcards.

boots by starlight

“Deep in the Heart of Texas” Collaged by Christine Irving

2) Sign up for the fest sometime in July and receive a list of thirty-one names.

3) Buy 31 postcard stamps. Yes, the post office has cheaper stamps for postcards. Beginning on August 1, write a poem a day on the back of a postcard and mail it. Poem can be inspired by the image on the front, or a poem you received the day before, or any other thing. It must be handwritten and composed on the spot, then sent immediately. Do not worry about editing, fixing, prettifying etc. Let it go!

4) Enjoy the great fun of finding a reciprocal poem in your box almost every day.

G o cloudspoem clouds

I decided not to make copies of the postcards I sent or keep my poems. Of course, if I happen to write something absolutely breathtaking I won’t be able to resist. Meanwhile, I’m trying for more spontaneity and less attachment this year. This is another quote from Ginsberg via Paul:

… the first noble truth most all of us acknowledge, especially senior citizens, is that existence is transitory — life is transitory. We are born and we die. And so this is it! It gives life both a melancholy and a sweet and joyful flavor … Any gesture we make consciously, be it artwork, a love affair, any food we cook, can be done with a kind of awareness of eternity, truthfulness … In portraiture, you have the fleeting moment to capture the image as it passes and before it dissolves … It captures the shadow of the moment.

I couldn’t agree more. One of the best things about traveling, which is where one usually acquires and sends postcards, is the continuous novelty. It’s exhilarating to experience things changing, each moment novel and fresh. The journey forces one to stay present in order not to miss anything. Letting go of the poems, for me, is a way to acknowledge the joy in transience and keep my eyes fresh. Though I admit to a pang of loss and a greedy urge to pile all the words I’ve ever written in a heap and sit on them like a dragon on her hoard.  Nevertheless, I’m finding letting go clears the way for other lines and now I want to start sending them anonymously to all the folks I know.


P.S. Paul has a bunch of provocative pencil writingwriting exercises on his site. Click on “exercises” to get to the page.




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