A Postcard Poem from David
Recently a good friend, poet, David Wright honored me with a postcard poem. David has been involved in a postcard poetry project for some time and it is well worth it to look at all the postcard poems David has posted on his blog site. The poem on my postcard describes the Ginkgo leaves that are lovely in summer but stink when they fall off the tree and rot on the ground. It also reflects on the ease with which the delicate leaves can split in two, symbolic of the fragile nature of some relationships. It begins with an epigraph of lines from Goethe’s Gingo Boloba, a poem Goethe wrote to Marianne von Willemer. Goethe taped two splitting Ginkgo leaves on a copy of the poem he sent to von Willemer.
On the front of my postcard, David traced a Ginkgo leaf which as he points out in his poem,
. . . under my unsteady hand the fan
becomes a mushroom, an Eastern cloud, an easy figure to divide in two.
You can see that David handwrites the warning to me that the poem is sad; but, I think it is a beautiful poem that does what good poems do: it imparts a deeper understanding of the world through its imagery. I feel doubly honored that David sent me an original poem on a postcard and, that he trusted me enough to share this particular one with me.
Poets and Postcards
Receiving David’s postcard made me recall a podcast I’d listened to a few months earlier called The Alternative Press, Detroit was burning and poetry was on fire. This was a podcast from the Poetry Foundation’s Poetry Off the Shelf series produced and narrated by Curtis Fox. The podcast is based on an essay by Emily Warn for the Foundation’s website, called D.I.Y. Detroit— How the Alternative Press shaped the art of a city left for dead. Both the article and the podcast talk about The Alternative Press (TAP), established by artist Ann Mikolowski and her husband, poet, Ken Mikolowski in Detroit starting in 1969 at the height of the Detroit riots. The press operated until 1999. TAP grew up like a Phoenix out of the conflict and burning of Detroit in the 60s and attracted, as contributors, a huge range of local poets as well as national poets, such as Allen Ginsberg, Robert Creeley, John Yau, Gary Snyder and Anne Waldman. TAP sent manila envelopes to subscribers filled with postcards, bumper stickers, bookmarks and other sorts of appropriated forms upon which was printed original poems. Much of the poetry was whimsical and clever and, of necessity, short. In some cases, no other publication or originals of the poetry exists.
The postcard holds a special allure to poets according to Terrance Deggory, author of The Encyclopedia of The New York Poets.
“Postcards appealed to New York School poets both as a genre of ordinary life and as a formal constraint, imposing a tight frame on both word and image. Ashbery composed visual collages on postcards in the early 1970s. Berrigan wrote a series of poems on postcards (A Certain Slant of Sunlight, 1988), forming a journal of the last months of his life. With Wallace Steven’s “A Postcard from the Volcano” (1936) somewhere in the “high art” background, postcards feature in O’Hara’s poem “A Postcard from John Ashbery” (1951; Collected Poems 56-57), Koch’s short story “A Postcard Collection” (1964), and KENWARD ELMSLIE’s play Postcards on Parade (1993).” Pages 186-187
Postcards represent ephemera, a transitive media that on the one hand tightly restricts the size and shape of the poem but on the other, represents a kind of freedom of publication. When you think about postcards carrying the poetry, some with small drawings of a leaf or a map or a face or a flower, openly and across the miles to just one recipient, and that, the poetry is virtually open to the elements as it travels (and the postman could read it if he liked), it is quite delightful and extraordinary. It’s an act of intimacy between poet and the recipient.
© 2010-2012 Grace Curtis