Sunday, July 21, 2013



(Links to related sites and how to participate are at the end of this post)

Every August since 2007 I've written 31 short poems, put them on postcards and sent them off to persons known to me only by the fact that their names appeared on a list. 

Just for fun (for me, anyway), I thought I'd take a look back at some of the previous years.  Here, for example, is my very first postcard poem:


Let it begin with a river,
one that passes gracefully
between two countries as different as planets,

Let it be decorated with dams,
alive with rapids,

Let it slake the thirst of all creatures
that find their way to its edge,

Let it flow like words
finding their way to fertile ground,

Let it begin with a river.

Washington poet Brendan McBreen was on my list in 2007. This year (and last) he took over the immense job of organizing the list of poet participants. It keeps getting longer  and will easily break the 200 mark this year. 

Here's the odd little poem he got from me:

My mother would say 'Brendan?
He’s Irish, then,' this last not
a question, but pure, irrefutable 
fact. To her. I was nine
the first time she made me so mad
I wanted to hit her, but she
was pregnant, see, and besides,
we really didn’t hit in my family.
Now she gazes out from under
Paul Nelson’s hat—I have no idea 
how that came to be—and I
send the picture to my sisters,
with whom she was pregnant
the time I was angry
when I was nine.

In past years the list we 
received contained about 31 names, but this year Brendan's decided to send out one long list. You only have to respond to the 31 names below yours (if you're near the end of the list you go back to the beginning).

Now, between Brendan and Paul Nelson, who, with Lana Hechtman Ayers, dreamed up this event in the first place, there are certain things you should attempt to do whilst writing your poems.

From Brendan, this year: 

"The August Poetry Postcard Project is an exercise in responding to other poets. You write a poem a day for the month of August, write it on a postcard and send it to the next name on your list. When you receive a postcard poem from someone, the idea is that the next poem you send out will be a response to the poem you just received, even though it will be sent to a different person. Ideally you will write 31 new poems and receive 31 postcard poems from all over the place."

Paul would have you write the poem directly onto the card. This means no editing, and I can see some of you screwing up your little faces at that. Indeed, I confess again (as I have confessed before, and to Paul) that I didn't do that the first year. Or, I think, the second. But then I tried it and it wasn't all that scary. God knows, it's quicker. Most of the time. There are pros and cons to editing. Paul has a few things to say about the subject here, and Nanaimo poet Kim Goldberg who is firmly in the no editing camp has this to say

Personally, I tweak a lot. One of my poems is plastered onto a wall somewhere in Nelson this month, in honour of Art Walk. (I'm going to try to find it tomorrow). I wrote it quite a few years ago and sent in whatever version it had morphed into, so that's what's on the wall, but a couple of weeks ago when I was making a chapbook for the Elephant Mountain Lit Fest reading, I changed it a little. Well, quite a bit, actually. Moved stuff around. Excised. Added to. You know, edited it. And I would hate to try to exist without my wonderful poetry group. Four of us meet and discuss each other's work and make suggestions as to how a particular poem might be improved/clarified/tightened/whatever. We all find this kind of input to be helpful. Sometimes we follow up on the suggestions and sometimes we don't. 

Getting back to postcard poems,  Paul has more suggestions for writing. I like his idea of working off another poet's words, finding a poet you'd like to "spend more time with", as he puts it. Actually, Paul has tons of good ideas so why don't I just give you the link and you can see for yourself. 

And me? I tend to write to the picture on the card. Sometimes I respond to one I've received, but all too often three or four days go by with no cards in the mailbox and then I get several at once. One year I went through a box of cards that depicted the first 30 covers of Nancy Drew novels. I wrote as Nancy or to Nancy or about Nancy, working from the images on the cards. 

In 2009 Ted and I drove to Newfoundland. Some of my cards were written there as well as en route, and some were mailed late, but I still did 31.

Sometimes (not often enough, but that's August for you; always a busy month) I made my own cards, like this one:

Found some of those stickers you put on the back of a 4"x6" photo and it turns into a postcard. This is a picture of a bowl Ted turned out of a birch at my sister's place. The birch here all seem to be dying.

One by one they sicken,
drop widow-maker branches
the way they used to shake off leaves,
old birch that grew for decades
now wracked with a thirst 
they cannot quench 
while we, custodians of the land, 
whine about pine beetle kill 
and who’s going to get our water, 
as if it’s really ours to give.
Perhaps the bowl remembers.

The quality of the poems is, obviously, a subjective thing. Sometimes I really like what I've written, other times I feel like the biggest sham poet on the planet. But versions of some of my postcard poems have gone on to be published, and one of them became the title of my third chapbook.


My father lost his mind
but not his hair.
His father was bald as a fire-ravished
hillside, but his mind was sharp, precise.

My hair has thinned a little,
I forget things, these days my son’s
hair looks more like mine than
my own.

Look into a mirror—
they’re all there,
their heads, at least,
looking for their owners.

Want to play this year? Here's how. To participate, send Brendan your name, mailing address, and email to  
Include the word “postcard” in the subject line. 
Do it soon, as Brendan is sending out the final list on the 30th of July.

Some neat poetry postcard links (from Paul):

The blog for the fest is here: 
A workshop handout for the poetry postcard writing exercise is here:
You may also view that handout at this link:
David Sherwin’s article from a couple of years ago is worth reading: 
And finally, pay attention to postal rates. In Canada it costs 63 cents to mail a card within Canada and $1.10 to send one to the States. International destinations are $1.34.
Just be warned. Poetry postcarding can be addictive. My friend Judy Wapp tried it for a month a couple of years ago. Now she sends out cards to some lucky recipients all year round. 


Ronda Eller said...

What fun Linda! Thanks for the heads-up; I am going to do this. :) Ronda

guido said...

good stuff Linda....oh that I were a poet.

peN said...

Thanks for all the plugs. I jumped the gun and started writing poems already, but am going to try to write at least 51 and maybe I'll just keep writing postcard poems until most of the people on the list get one. Nice Post Linda. I love Kellar and the "sham" feeling, which I get too.

leslie mcbain said...


WordFaery said...

It's the 31 days of Christmas!

S.E.Ingraham said...

A superb blog Linda that would send me post-carding if I wasn't already doing it...