In June, I decided to join a Postcard Poetry Fest as a way to jump start some new writing. The project was created by poets Paul Nelson and Lana Ayers and this year over 300 poets joined the list. Each participant was given a list of names and addresses and the chance to write a poem a day for the month of August and mail them out to strangers. In return, each writer receives postcard poems each day.
I have always loved letter writing and sending and receiving. My first penpal was an aunt that lived in California (which may as well have been another country, and in some ways, was). There were several after her, through church missions, pop music magazines, young loves. The handwritten word never fails to inspire, if only for the very personal act itself, the little quirks of personality peeking out in script.
Here are some of the poems from the month and I'll continue to post them, though with a caveat. These were written directly on the card in one go, with no notes and no exit strategy in some cases. You've been warned; these are first-draft poems. My crutches and obsessions and limitations all shine through. But hopefully, some of that earnest intent to connect directly, personally will show up, too.
I am fortunate that many of my favorite poets are within earshot of me, at least on the first Wednesday of every month. Jay Morris is one of the fine voices I first heard at Word of Mouth. Like a CPR-kick to the heart, he'll get you going. Just listen.
When asked to introduce himself:
I'm from Athens, GA. I'm studying Health Promotion and Behavior at UGA. I'm 19. I write poetry because it keeps me grounded while at the same time helping me notice the way I deal with life and give it meaning.
Do you have any touchstone poems?
I have so many touchstone poems it's hard to pick! However I guess I would say that After the Bachelor Party by Derrick Brown currently keeps popping up in my head.
Do you have any writing/revising rituals?
I don't know if I necessarily call it a ritual, but it's definitely something I do consciously. I find that I can't write poetry during the daytime. Only at night.
Someone calls you a poet--how do you respond?
I still feel pretty weird when people refer to me as a poet, particularly because people often inject a lot of pretension into that word. I'm becoming more comfortable with being called a poet as I'm more able to define what a poet is. Incidentally you helped me define a poet as "Someone who not only survives life, but does so insisting their heart and soul remain intact."
What inspires you?
A lot of things inspire me creatively. Music inspires me. Other poems inspire me. Books, conversations with friends, walks, runs, social issues. I guess I have myriad sources of inspiration.
How do you deal with creative doubt?
Dealing with creative doubt is the hardest question. Being a more confessional poet I have to be aware that there's a boundary between being moving and inspiring and being depressing and pathetic. When I get to a poem I've written that makes me feel that way I think first "Is this me being as honest as possible?" and second "Is there a way I can make it universal?" and third "Is this poem solutions oriented, or am I just wallowing?"
* * *
To read Jay's poetry (and you should), go to http://archerarrestedbukowski.blogspot.com/
A broadside is a large sheet of paper, printed on one side, historically for advertisements, proclamations, or political diatribes. A later iteration was to combine the text of a poem with an image.
Broadsides are delightful in the way that they resemble storybook pages for grown-ups. The reunion of image and text that you can frame, or, for the more upstairs-garret look, tack to a wall. The collaborative aspect appeals, too. What happens when you get a visual artist and poet together?
Broadsided has a great collection of these, provided digitally for easy reproduction. For folks who like printmaking and book arts, you can also find booksellers like this who sell limited editions of broadsides, if you'd prefer something a little more on the rare side.
I have been fortunate to work with a few artists on some broadsides. The first was for the poem "The Gift." The talented David Calton provided the woodcut of a bee for the image.
“Mystery Bee Disappearance Sweeping U.S.”
I didn’t kill the bees, if that helps.
You would have taken them, too.
His breath sounded like wet fabric ripped in two
While he searched for his EpiPen.
That happened too often.
When spring came I watched him watch
The nonchalance of patio-sitters.
Before a waiter ever asked he’d say, ‘Inside, please.”
The research on beekeepers’ associations,
The night raids, the elastic hidden
In cuffs and sleeves.
Yes, it was worth all the time and trouble.
The smell of smoke and honey,
That tacky wax on my skin.
Ridiculous amounts of netting.
I can’t tell you much more except
Somewhere a warehouse thrums with bees.
The air inside shakes with a million tiny breezes.
If you enter the building, you will lose your shoes,
Socks, and a layer of skin to the sticky floor.
You will hear protracted thunder,
The sound of frustrated industry.
But from a distance the noise
Becomes an eternal Om.
Once this is all settled
I will prepare a picnic for him,
And we’ll sit just close enough
To hear the monotone concert.
There I will give him a jar of amber honey
To match his eyes, to kiss off his mouth.
More recently, I collaborated with Richie DeBiase of New Haven, CT. After considering several poems, we picked "Not" to use as a jumping off point for his wonderful illustration style. The kind and talented folks at Double Dutch Press (I highly recommend them for excellence in their craft and great customer service) in Athens screenprinted four copies of the poem. I wanted Richie to have multiples for "do-overs" if necessary. He sent them all back, beautifully illustrated, all with entirely different tones and feel! Richie's treatment of the poem is a great example of how differently a poem can be interpreted visually.
Hopefully, the future will bring more chances to work with artists to combine text and image in interesting ways. Any artists and graphic designers reading this that see any poems you'd like to work with, let me know!
Back home, the name of a road that crosses a railroad track. Here, a place to keep my verbal play-pretties and whatnot.