Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Postcard Poems as Peace Process

“There can be no vulnerability without risk; there can be no community without vulnerability; there can be no peace, and ultimately no life, without community."                                                                                       - M. Scott Peck

It was the summer of 2007 and upon leaving a poetry critique circle when I said to a friend and participant, a fellow poet, that I wanted to “do something with postcards this summer.” She did not ask what I wanted to do, she simply said: “I’ll help.” I told her what I had in mind and she wrote up the first draft of a call for a poetry postcard project and it was something like this:

On or about July 27th, send postcards to the 3 people on the list below your name.  (If you are near the bottom, send a card to anyone below you then start again at the top.) Ideally, you would write 3 different short poems -- remember they are being composed on a postcard and please keep your handwriting clear. (If you start with folks outside your country, you may want to start sending poems early…)

What to write? Something that relates to your sense of "place" however you interpret that, something about how you relate to the postcard image, what you see out the window, what you're reading, a dream you had that morning, or an image from it, etc. Like "real" postcards, get to something of the "here and now" when you write. Present tense is preferred... Do write original poems for the project. Taking old poems and using them is not what we have in mind. Letting a card linger for a while before you respond to the next person on your list is cool.

Oh and the poems were to be composed onto the card. That is, you get out a card and write onto it. Spontaneous, a brief glimpse into the mind of a stranger for one August moment. Like calligraphy. A risk. When focused on the luminous details, the concrete objects, the minute particulars, this is an exercise in perception and there are parallels with a Zen mode of existence. At its best this method is a reflection of one’s Personal Mythology, which can be a useful notion in one’s efforts toward individuation. Learning to cooperate with the language rather than use it, to paraphrase Robert Duncan. All these facets conspire to allow the practice to be a wisdom teacher.

We put the call out via our various literary communities, such as the SPLAB email list, SUNY Buffalo Poetics list and the WOMPO list of women poets. We started getting emails and the final list was over 100. We were stunned. There was great excitement and I would go on to write 128 postcard poems in 2007 alone as the excitement of the August Poetry Postcard Fest was such that, for a year, it was extended to a weekly practice, sending poetry postcards to folks who signed up for what became known as the “Perennial List.”

We learned that many folks did not write spontaneously. One participant, in blatant disregard of the guidelines, wrote a poem in 31 sections for the fest and printed it out and cut it into hunks which were then glued to cards and mailed. When you look at the intended dialog part of the fest, the intention of seeing how such dialog could build a community, this person comes across as sort of a crazy person babbling in public into a cordless phone mic with no one on the other end of the “conversation.” This process was too much risk for some people. And composing spontaneously is the hardest way to write. Michael McClure said: 

To write spontaneously does not mean to write carelessly or without thought and deep experience. In fact, there must be a vision and a poetics that are alive and conscious… I do not know of a more adventurous gesture than to write spontaneously... When the poem is finished I listen to it…and see that it has a deeper consciousness and brighter thoughts than I was aware of while writing (xv).

And this gets me to how risk, an inherent part of building community, is related to how this August Poetry Postcard Fest has all these years been a peace-making effort. For in our culture, peace is seen as the absence of war and peace-making in the effort to stop or oppose war. But it is deeper than that. To oppose something only creates a dualism that strengthens what one opposes. The other side. You can crush the war effort, but it is the same consciousness as war itself. One must go to a deeper stance or be subject to what Einstein said, that being: “Sometimes two sides disagree because they are both wrong.” Or like the anti-war protestors who wanted a meeting with Mother Teresa and were told to come back when they were “pro-peace” activists. 

That we were employing a lost art in the age of instant digital communications was a beautiful attempt to go against the tide and zig when most of society was zagging. Like the slow-food movement. Instant gratification just won’t do. Slow down!

That most of the poems I received were awful was besides the point. That most people were trying, were making themselves vulnerable and were learning little by little how to be in the moment and let the language itself have its say was a victory and was, I believed, deepening their own consciousness. They were taking a risk, making themselves vulnerable.

The list in August 2013 grew to 302 people, with participants in: Alabama, Alberta, Arizona, Australia, British Columbia, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, France, Georgia, Germany, Hawaii, Illinois, India, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Mumbai, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Ontario, Oregon, Pakistan, Pennsylvania, Quebec, Singapore, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, United Kingdom, Virginia, Washington, Washington D.C., and Wisconsin.

I look at that list and love how India comes between Illinois and Indiana and the assonance of the words themselves as they are together. And the music of Florida, France, Georgia, Germany, with two countries who, in one lifetime, were slitting each others throats. Now there are folks in those two countries sitting at their desks and jotting something personal, hopefully creative, imaginative, beautiful and inspiring, but at least sincere, to some stranger in a foreign land. For we Norte Americanos, at least it’s a faraway state or province.

When you let in intuition guide you, magical things can happen as Charles Olson knew. A major 20th Century advocate for a spontaneous composing process, he said: “We do what we know before we know what we do.” This is evocative of another 20th Century mystic, the Indonesian founder of Subud known as Bapak, who said: “Experience first, explanations afterward.” 

So, this is the explanation after 7 years of this festival and over 460 poetry postcards that I have sent out. It is an effort to learn about other cultures, to be creative and vulnerable. To reach out to strangers in a peaceful and imaginative way. To give them a sense of my August priorities which, this year were about, among other things: our p-patch community garden; dancing in the kitchen with my 17 month old daughter; and taking a Moroccan poet and Beat scholar to the top of a mountain in a nearby national park and expose him to some of the other beautiful things about life here.

Risk, vulnerability, community, peace was M. Scott Peck’s recipe. All I added was creativity, as what is life without the imagination? As poet Diane diPrima said: “The only war that matters is the war against the imagination. All other wars are subsumed in it.”

Won’t you join us next August?


Work Cited


McClure, Michael. Three Poems. New York, Penguin, 1995.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Fest Over, Who's Posting?

That was the title of a post on the Facebook Postcard Poetry Fest page by one participant. Who's posting? Indeed. The joy of August poetry. If not dominating one's activities during the month-long fest, it at least plays a leading role. This is a role, I have found, that can't possibly survive in a normal month, but August is, in our Northern culture, the last gasp of summer. Never mind there's three more weeks left of actual summer, the season is just playing out the string. And despite a warm Labor Day weekend here in Seattle, it seems like the season has changed. The angles of sun on our p-patch garden are incredibly south of what I have become accustomed to seeing.


From Sharon Ingraham's Blog: http://seiwrites.wordpress.com/
From Sharon Ingraham's Blog: http://seiwrites.wordpress.com/

And while a few more cards trickle in to mailboxes in 31 different states, the District of Columbia, four Canadian provinces and eight other countries, September is here and the fest will not have the same sparkle, the same appeal, the same light. And like the fact that the fest had a record 302 participants, there seems to be a record number of poets posting the cards they wrote on their own blogs. 

Judy Kleinberg is keeping score, and notes Michelle CastleberryDeborah MirandaPaul NelsonLisa Nichols and Martina Robinson among the bloggers. Add also: Kristin Cleage
http://ruffdraft.us/blog/




And Raymond Maxwell:



And (as noted) Deborah Miranda:

http://badndns.blogspot.com/2013/08/poetry-project-31-what-whales-want.html

And Anita Endrezze, who also CREATES her cards:

http://anitaendrezze.weebly.com/a-month-of-poems-the-poetry-postcard-project.html
and you start to get a sense of the creativity unleashed by the August Poetry Postcard Fest this year. I have not yet written my afterword, but am on that next. First though, HUGE thanks to all the postcarders this year. My own practice was influenced by every card I received in some small way, my own priorities validated, my own life enriched by being a part of this project for the 7th year. Gratitude to Brendan McBreen, for not only keeping the list this year, but also for being one of the most creative participants. Dig this:


So, there is more talk about poetry postcard readings between now and next July 27. CJ Prince is trying to get a POetry POstcard feature going in Bellingham and Brendan McBreen is considering such a feature at the Striped Water Poets gathering in Auburn, WA. I would love to have a poetry postcard fest conference and would welcome your thoughts. For those who took on the fest as it is intended, to help you discover the additional dimensions of spontaneous composition, good for you. Hell, it's only ONE PERSON who's going to get the card, so what do you have to lose?

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

August Poetry Postcard Fest (Final List)

The 2013 August POetry POstcard Fest has begun!
The final list for the August POetry POstcard Fest is now out and there are 302 poets participating! 

One last post before my cards start appearing is here: http://paulenelson.com/2013/07/31/august-poetry-postcard-fest/ and again, my thanks to Brendan McBreen for keeping the list this year, his second and the fest's 7th.

Much communication happens via the Facebook page for the project, so see: https://www.facebook.com/groups/17361938720/ if you do Facebook and thanks for your interest in this project.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The 7th August POetry POstcard Fest Begins Today!

While the final list will go out in 4 days, the majority of participants have received the list of (so far) 243 poets! This is a huge increase from last year, which delights us. There are poets from Alabama, Alberta, Arizona, Australia, British Columbia, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, France, Georgia, Germany, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Mumbai, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Ontario, Oregon, Pakistan, Pennsylvania, Quebec, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, United Kingdom, Virginia, Washington, Washington D.C., and Wisconsin.

So, one you get the list, look for your name, write three original poems directly onto the postcards to the 3 people on the list below your name. (If you are near the bottom, send a card to anyone below you then start again at the top.) Ideally, you would write 3 different short poems -- remember they are being composed on a postcard and please keep your handwriting clear. (If you start with folks outside your country, you may want to start sending poems early…)

What to write? Something that relates to your sense of "place" however you interpret that,
something about how you relate to the postcard image, what you see out the window, what
you're reading, a dream you had that morning, or an image from it, etc. Like "real"
postcards, get to something of the "here and now" when you write. Present tense is
preferred... Do write original poems for the project. Taking old poems and using them is
not what we have in mind. Letting a card linger for a while before you respond to the next
person on your list is cool.

Key links: http://paulenelson.com/2013/07/20/how-to-write-a-postcard-poem-10-steps/

http://changeorder.typepad.com/weblog/2010/08/sending-postcards-to-strangers.html

http://paulenelson.com/2012/08/29/2012-august-poetry-postcard-fest-afterword/

http://paulenelson.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Postcard-Exercise.pdf

and the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/17361938720/

Please allow a MONTH after mailing your postcard before posting your own postcard poems online. Once you GET a poem, do what you wish, but check with the poet if possible before publishing their poem.

See you at the mailbox.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Penultimate Postcard Update

Dia de los Postcard
Dia de los Postcard
USPS
USPS
I got the latest postcard update from Brendan McBreen (see below) with the new list of 243 people, easily a new postcard record! Am a little stunned and very excited about the fest and (as noted here) have already started hacking away at my list. Again I'll link to two articles which may be of use for poets more used to editing:
1) http://paulenelson.com/2013/07/12/writing-or-re-writing/ (A primer on prevision.)
2) How the David Sherwin got the organic method.

& remember, US citizens, it costs MORE to send a postcard outside the friendly confines of your country.

From Brendan:

hello all,

As I have mentioned before, the reason the list goes out early is due to longer mailing times for sending and receiving poetry postcards internationally.

To recap, the deadline for signing up for the poetry postcard list this year is July 30th. I am in the Pacific Coast time zone same or the Seattle time zone if thats easier. I will be sending out the final list on the 30th maybe as late as midnight on the 31st to give people every opportunity to sign up. But after the list goes out on the 30th (31st) it is final, the sign up period is over. The reason I am telling you (the people who have already signed up) this is in case you have a friend who might like to join in, be sure they get their info to me by July 30th.

And to recap the guidelines, you will find your name on the list and in August (or just before) you should write a poem on the back of a postcard and send it to the person below your name on the list. When you begin receiving poetry postcards, you can write a response poem to them but continue to send them to the next people on your list. If you get to the bottom of the list you should jump to the first name and continue from there. And this is important because there is one more week for people to sign up, there will likely be a few more names added so the last person on the list now will not be the last person on the final version of the list.

You should write a poem a day for the month of August and hopefully receive a poem a day, but postal times vary so some days you might not receive any and others you can get three or four at once, but that should not stop you from writing your poem a day.Please check to be sure you have enough postage on cards going over seas too.

Also I should note that there was a duplicate on the earlier list sent out on the 16th so the numbering has changed a bit.

I think that is all, I will copy the list below here and attach it as a word doc.

Enjoy!

Brendan

Monday, July 22, 2013

Linda Crosfield's Take

Not Linda
Here's a take on the postcard fest from Castlegar, British Columbia's Linda Crosfield. Be sure to look at the card with the decapitated head magic trick! Fun for the kids!

http://purplemountainpoems.blogspot.ca/2013/07/psst-its-almost-august-wanna-play.html

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

POetry POstcard Update

The man coordinating the list for the 2013 August POetry POstcard Fest, Brendan McBreen, informs us that 179 poets have signed up so far and the cut off date is less than two weeks away. (His update below.) I am thinking I’ll get an early start on my list and see if I can write at least 40 cards this year.
From Brendan:
Just a reminder, this is an incomplete list. I am sending it out early because delivery times take longer for our outside-the-U.S. participants. So for those of you toward the bottom of the list, there will be more names following you by the time the final list goes out. Another reminder, the 30th of July is the deadline! If you have friends who want to participate, be sure they sign up before the 30th! Once the final list goes out I will not be adding any more names. And one more reminder, the idea is to write a postcard poem every day in August to the 31 names following your name on the list.


(See also this primer on the modern history of prevision, or getting it right the first time.)

(& finally, again, David Sherwin’s “Aha!” postcard moment.)
I’ll never forget a poet’s report on getting a poetry postcard directly from the letter carrier after they read it. They said: “Hey, this one’s pretty good!

See you at the mailbox and don’t forget to put CORRECT POSTAGE on cards going out of the U.S.