Let’s address the misnomer first and foremost. To exchange poems via post is charmingly retro to the extreme, but if you find a willing poet and want to give it a go, by all means! More likely, this post should be called “E-Mail Poetry” but, like most things technological, it lacks the charm, don’t you agree?
I can up the ante in the charm department, too. The example I’m going to use, pen pals Ted Kooser and Jim Harrison, exchanged poems on the backs of simple postcards. Thus, every mailman (or woman) along the way was welcome to partake of the poetry feast. Can you imagine the postman on his daily rounds pausing at a gate to peruse a poem by two of America’s wilier wordsmiths? It restores one’s shaken faith in the nation.
The postcard poetry exchange occurred some 20 years ago, in the late 90s when Kooser was recovering from surgery for cancer. He captured it in a little book called Winter Morning Walks: 100 Postcards to Jim Harrison.
Correction: He captured half of it, as the poems in the book are all Kooser’s, none of Harrison’s. How much richer the book would have been if it contained both! Still, that’s not the point. The point is the idea–a daily exchange with some like-minded writer as your morning constitution.
Too ambitious? Too difficult? Nah. Kooser’s poems are not world wonder sonnets or anything. Snippets, some more complete than others. The type thing that might land in a journal, but instead alights on a postcard with a stamp. Example:
My wife and I walk the cold road
in silence, asking for thirty more years.
There’s a pink and blue sunrise
with an accent of red:
a hunter’s cap burns like a coal
in the yellow-gray eye of the woods.
And done! Example #2:
There was a time
when my long gray cashmere topcoat
was cigarette smoke,
and my snappy felt homborg
and the paisley silk scarf at my neck,
with its fringed end
tossed carelessly over my shoulder,
was laughter rich with irony.
Look at me now.
What’s more, not every day is postal poem day. Just most of them. Still, you have to admit, it’s a nice old-school idea, and it had to make the daily act of pulling open the mailbox door a lot more enjoyable. I mean, who wants three bills every day when you could pluck a poem instead? (Unless, of course, the utilities and health care/insurance robbers start scaring us by billing in iambic pentameter.)