Tag Archives: postcards

Making poems…

postcard and pen

You have your list of names and addresses. You’ve collected a stack of postcards and stamps. Now what?

Maybe you, like Lisa Choi, will simply “write whatever inspiration strikes me at that moment.” But if you feel a little nervous about setting pen to postcard, you’re not alone.

Let’s start with the hard part: write your poem on the card in one take — no editing.

Here’s what Paul Nelson says in the guidelines: “The idea is to practice spontaneity, to write directly on the card in one take. If it’s hard at the start of the Fest to do that, relax, because it gets better as the month goes on. No one can publish your poem without your permission and you are writing to one person.” Paul adds, “We can level with that person our most immediate and intimate thoughts, which is an amazing gift that can liberate both sender and receiver.”

Ina Roy-Faderman says, “I always thought not ‘practicing’ — that is, writing and rewriting and trying to make it perfect — was both hard and scary.” Linda Crosfield agrees: “It took me about three or four years of doing the exchange before I could actually do it the way Paul suggests, namely write directly onto the card. Doing that was a big leap of faith and has taught me to trust my initial impulse more. First thought/best thought.”

We asked some experienced postcarders for suggestions on getting started. Here are a few ideas:

  • Kim Clark: I prefer to start with a theme (in case it turns into a chapbook).
  • Ina: write a response to the last card you got.
  • Paul: write a poem in response to issues in the news.
  • Ina: write the next five postcards about the view out your kitchen window/a painting you detest/David Bowie’s passing/your favorite foods, etc.
  • Judy: make a list of prompts and select one at random each day; here’s a link to posts tagged prompts on The Poetry Department blog (click on Previous entries at the bottom of each page to see more).
  • Kristin Cleage: Mostly I go around noticing things — the weather, my yard, my neighbors — and then I write something short about it.
  • Paul: start each poem with a quote from a poet whose work interests you (see Paul’s 2013 article How to Write a POstcard POem) [and be sure to credit the quote].
  • Ina: write about the image on your postcard (if there is one).
  • Kristin: Last year I wrote some American sentences so I had to do so many syllables per poem.
  • Paul: here’s part of the original APPF instructions: “Something that relates to your sense of ‘place’ however you interpret that, something about how you relate to the postcard image, what you see out the window, what you’re reading, a dream you had that morning, or an image from it, etc. Like ‘real’ postcards, get to something of the ‘here and now’ when you write.”
  • Ina: write a poem to the mail carrier who will deliver the postcard.
  • Judy: use the last line of yesterday’s poem as the first line of today’s poem.

As Kristin says, “I think you just have to jump in and find your way and relax.”

Have suggestions for poets facing the blank postcard? Please leave a Comment!


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Postcarding: managing the stuff

Linda's file drawer

Linda’s file drawer

Linda's computer record

screen shot of Linda’s outgoing cards

Ina's notebook

Ina’s notebook

Martina's wall of fame

Martina’s wall of fame

Linda's postcard vase

Linda’s postcard vase

Ellen's postcard ring

Ellen’s postcard ring

Judy's chart

Judy’s chart

There are as many ways of approaching the August Poetry Postcard Fest as there are participants. In a future post, we’ll talk about some of the ways postcarders find inspiration. But in this post, we’ll look at a few ideas for organizing the “stuff” of postcarding.

If the very word organized makes you break out in hives, don’t worry: all you really need is 1) postcards, 2) pen, 3) addresses and 4) stamps. You write ’em, you mail ’em, you receive ’em. Done.

But here’s the thing: 31 outgoing and up to 31 incoming postcards plus the address list and appropriate postage stamps is a lot of stuff. Participate for more than one year and you’re into multiples of everything…

Don’t panic! It’s all doable and it’s all been done. So successfully, in fact, that about a quarter of APPF participants return year after year and find, as Linda C. says, “Writing a poem a day in August has proven to be a highlight of my year.”

Here are a few tricks that have proven useful to experienced postcarders (with special thanks to Linda C., Ina, Martina, Linda W., Ellen, and Kim):

Linda C. has designated file folders for each year she participates in APPF (see photo).

She also takes “photos, front and back, of every card I send” and names them with keywords to make them easier to find in her computer (see photo). (If you have a scanner, scans are even clearer than photos.)

More from Linda: “Once written, I transcribe the poem into a Word doc with the name of the person who will receive it.”

Ina keeps her incoming postcards in a three-ring binder (see photo).

Some postcarders dedicate a wall (see Martina’s bathroom-wall collection of every postcard she’s received since APPF 2011!) or bulletin board to incoming cards for the month. Linda W. keeps hers in a beautiful vase (see photo) on the corner of her desk. Ellen collects hers, book-style, on a metal ring (see photo).

Though most people handwrite their postcards, Kim says, “My handwriting is illegible so I have to use the computer for everything. I just keep all the poems in one new folder with the list. I also use a template for the size of poem that will fit on (most) postcards. And once I’ve finished a poem I put it into a master file that will hold them all together and in order.” (The print-out of the poem gets secured to the postcard.)

The things you want to keep track of are: the text of your postcard poems, the date each one was mailed, what was on the image side and who the card went to. You can do that in simple list form. (If you plan to submit to 56 Days, your submissions will need to be typed, so it makes sense to set up a system as you get started.)

Instead of a list, you could make a simple grid, as follows:

sample chart

Enter the names from your list down the left column, then each day after you’ve written your poem, type it into the ‘poem’ column. Add a description (or scan) of the image on the front of the card and the date mailed. Comments can be things like noting that you received a card from that person or, later, where the poem has been published (!). (See photo.)

And a few very practical suggestions:

  • Turn your list into mailing labels
  • Buy stamps ahead of time and be sure to get some international stamps
  • Use return address labels (the clear ones are great)
  • If you don’t use return address labels, be sure to write your name on the card – super frustrating not to know who wrote that wonderful poem!
  • Leave a half inch of blank space below your poem at the bottom of the message side of the card so your poem won’t get obscured by the post office bar code imprint
  • Follow the APPF guidelines on posting/sharing postcards
  • Have fun!

How do you manage your postcard “stuff”? Do you have tips for postcarders? Please leave a comment!


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While you’re waiting…

Paul Nelson postcard collection

Soon registration will open, lists will be issued and poems and postcards will slip into the mail. But until the action begins, this is a great time to stock up on postcards, stamps, etc.

POSTCARDS: Some people send the same postcard to everyone on their list; others follow a more random system or no system at all. Museums and tourist centers may be the most reliable place to find postcards, but there are plenty of other options. Look for bags or bins of cards in thrift stores and used-book stores. Check the local antiques shop. Look online. Browse garage sales. And of course you can make your own!

STAMPS: Please bear in mind that the August Poetry Postcard Fest is an international project and some of the people on your list will likely reside in a country other than your own. Outside the U.S., please check your postal service for local rates (Canada here.). Mailed from and to U.S. addresses, standard postcards (up to 4-1/4″ x 6″) take 34-cent stamps; cards larger than that take 47-cent (letter rate, “Forever”) stamps. Postcards mailed from the U.S. to addresses outside the U.S. take $1.15 stamps. (It appears that USPO rates will hold steady through the 2016 Fest.)

ETC.: While many postcarders use the image on the card as inspiration, others like to begin with some other prompt, such as a quote, a line from a poem, an image, a found word or object, etc. If you enjoy working that way, this is a good time to fluff up your collection. The ETC. category also includes pens, return address stickers (the clear ones are great) and some way to keep track of your outgoing and incoming postcards (more on that another day).
. . . . .
image: Paul Nelson’s postcard collection (posted on Facebook)

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Counting down


Before the book, there’s the Fest, and before the Fest, there’s the Countdown. The Countdown marks the days, hours, minutes, and seconds until registration OPENS for the 10th August Poetry Postcard Fest. See the Countdown on the August POetry POstcard Fest page and subscribe to the newsletter (same page, right sidebar) to make sure you’re notified as soon as registration opens.

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