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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2 Responses to Making poems…

  1. Christine Kendall

    I hope no one is offended, I have been doing postcard poetry for eight years or more and my process is to write using my computer because that is how I write and it started with creating poetry on a manual typewriter, then an electric one and then on to computer days. I sit down after two cups of coffee, go through my postcards and select one and the poem is about what is around me or influenced by the card I selected or both. I never know what I’ll write or even how it will conclude it just flows, I print it and glue it to the card. My postcard poetry has then sometimes evolved into refined poems later. One year it helped me process or deal with the fires we had in 2014 and I love doing August Postcard Poetry and the stimulus it provides to write every single day.

    • ina

      It seems to me that there’s nothing to cause offense! We all have our own process (I type first and then back up and handwrite onto the postcard). And I understand that there are several people who use computer print outs because they have a disability that prevents them handwriting onto a card – I think it’s so amazing that we have these options.

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