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The poetry of postcards

Northwest poets spent half a month writing a poem a day and sharing the results through the mail
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These postcards were among those received by Ashland poet Amy Miller during the May Poetry Postcard Extravaganza. Each card contained a poem from another poet.
 Posted: 2:00 AM June 14, 2013

For a two-week stretch, Ashland poet Amy Miller found something special delivered each day to her mailbox — a poem written on a postcard.

Miller had joined 15 other Oregon and Washington state poets for the May Poetry Postcard Extravaganza.

Every day for 15 days, she wrote a poem on a postcard, then sent it to a different poet on the group's mailing list. In return, she received a daily postcard with a poem from another poet.

"It was fun knowing I would get something special in the mail," Miller said.

Although the poetry postcards project relied on "snail mail," it was organized by Eugene poet Toni Hanner, who recruited participants via Facebook.

Some of the poets, including Miller, had already developed the habit of penning a poem a day after taking part in April's National Poetry Writing Month, which challenges people to write daily poems.

The small size of postcards meant the poems had to be relatively short.

Still, many of the poets managed to pack layers of meaning into their poems.

On a vintage European postcard showing a building with Tudor architecture, Eugene poet Cecelia Hagen penned lines inspired by flowers growing in a garden.

It read, in part, "Today I feel the shortness of life. I have wasted time, made gardens and left them. I have put in years doing good deeds and bad, a typical human."

Another Eugene poet, Keli Osborn, sent a postcard featuring a painting by surrealist artist Salvador Dali.

Titled "St. Petersburg," the poem began:

"2000 libraries and still

a thirst for knowledge,

for vodka revelations,

reveries of endless twilight."

On a London candle factory postcard adorned with stamps depicting a Hawaiian shirt and a Tiffany lamp, Osborn wrote about a woman thinking of her cheating husband on a hot summer night. The last lines read:

"Her old man still cats around,

her bed wider each night.

Tennessee is out there somewhere

and bone-tired is three dreams back."

For anyone interested in starting their own poetry postcards project, Miller had some words of advice.

"Just do it. It's pretty simple," she said.

To organize the poets for the May project, Hanner emailed out a list of the 16 participating poets with their mailing addresses.

Each poet was instructed to start off by sending a new, original poem to the person below him or her on the mailing list.

The poets then worked their way down the list, mailing a postcard to a different person each day until they had sent one to everybody.

Miller said she already had an extensive postcard collection, so she pulled out a variety to use — including postcards showing the Columbia Gorge and David Letterman, and ones she received from a Croatian pen pal.

Each day, Miller said she stayed alert for interesting poetry ideas, taking mental snapshots of imagery or noting snippets of conversation.

"I would recommend doing a poem every day. It's a great habit to be in. It forces you to think about using material every day. You're constantly thinking of recording things to work on later," she said. "Writing poems on postcards is great because there's not a lot of pressure."

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.



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