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Weekly Prompt: Postcard Poems

2010 November 5
by Iris

Image from Kristine Uyeda's postcard poem, "Red Riding Hood" (published in Issue 1 of LR)

This week’s prompt was largely inspired by the beautiful Kundiman postcard poems that we had the privilege of publishing in our first issue. Writing postcard poems can be a lovely exercise in multiple respects. They are, by nature, short, which is a challenge in and of itself.  Furthermore, they are handwritten, and in some cases, hand-illustrated, too.  The detail and attention that drafting them requires can add a dimension of intimacy to the finished product.  Additionally, the fact that they are necessarily one-of-a-kind means that each postcard poem becomes a little one-off publication unto itself, and the card’s fragility and vulnerability to things like fingers and rain as it travels through the mail means that the piece that is received on the other end is always inscribed with a physical history of travel and transfer from hand-to-hand-to-hand.  The exchange of postcard poems , furthermore, can be an excellent way to build community, inviting collaboration, response, and the incorporation of poetry on a micro-scale into the everyday correspondence of those who participate.

Experienced poets may find it satisfying enough to challenge themselves with the tiny spatial confines of a postcard, but I have also included a variation below that I’ve tried in the community/classroom setting with some success.

Prompt:

Create or find a postcard whose subject interests you (non-geographically specific subjects tend to work quite well).  Decide upon a persona, or voice, and an addressee.  From what space, place, or position is that postcard being written?  How might this sense of positionality affect the speaker’s attitude towards the addressee, and thereby, the tone of his or her address? Write an epistolary poem on the back of the postcard, using the small rectangular writing space to shape your poem’s form.

Classroom Variation (“Wish You Were Here”):

Write a poem in the form of a postcard from an unusual location.  When I’ve done this exercise with small groups in the past, I’ve come prepared with a handful of blank notecards on which strange, mundane,  wacky , and/or otherwise non-geographical ‘locations’ have been pre-written (e.g. “The Bridge of George Washington’s Nose,” “The Back of the Refrigerator,” “The Library Dumpster,” “The Bee’s Knees,” “Inside Harry Potter’s Shoe,” “The Kitchen Table,” etc.).  On the back side of each card, I’ll draw or print a “postcard” template (complete with spaces for mailing address and stamp, should the students decide to mail off their completed pieces). After introducing the concept of epistolary poems to the students and giving them a few examples, I allow them to choose a “postcard” featuring a location that interests them.  The students are then given the chance to try writing a postcard poem on the back sides of their chosen cards.  For younger or more artistically-inclined groups, adding an illustration on the blank front side of the card can also be fun.

I’ve you’d like some great examples of postcard poems, check out the Kundiman poems “Red Riding Hood,” “Leaving Cortona,” and “Dear Disappearing,” from Issue 1 of Lantern Review, or read the poems from Kundiman’s 2007 postcard project that appeared in Shampoo 31. As always, if this exercise inspires a poem that you’d like to share, please do send it in!  We are still accepting submissions for Issue 2.

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