Postcard Poems, Creative Comment Cards, and the Art of Letter Writing

by Kori Linn, WITS Intern

I see the obvious questions: What is the difference between a postcard poem and a regular old postcard? What place does a comment card have in creative writing? How is letter writing an art?

These are all valuable questions.

First and foremost, as it often turns out, there is less difference between quotidian communication and poetry than some strict academic folks would have you believe. Part of poetry’s power is how it lends itself certain natural rhythms of language. Or perhaps part of language’s power is that it sometimes borrows poetic tactics, even if we don’t realize it while we are forming our words. Either way, everyday language, especially the paired down version that often appears on the back of a postcard, can sound an awful lot like poetry – I even know a poet who wrote a whole book based on vintage postcards, some of which are copied almost verbatim. The cropped space forces line breaks in a way that lined paper or a computer screen does not. It forces the writer to choose between cramming another word on a line (sometimes at the cost of turning the word on its side or even hyphenating it) or leaving a bit of white space.  It makes every word count, as space is limited.

Much like our first form, the comment card forces a poem into a box, sometimes an even smaller one than the postcard does. Joe Wenderoth compiled a book of comment card poems, one written everyday at the same restaurant.  Because all of the poems take the same small form, they read much like a journal, and Wenderoth is able to take some risks that wouldn’t be successful without the continuity of the form.

Ok, so you’re on board for the postcard poem, and even the comment card form makes sense, but letters – they don’t force the form in the same way. This is a good point, and yet letters can easily open up into prose poems, reading much like a monologue would. A letter allows the poem to unfold into prose. Here line breaks are traded for space as we immerse ourselves in the voice of the speaker – her words directed to a specific audience – but also the mind behind these words as we decipher what she shows and tells underneath the language.

And now you are ready to write your own poem in a reappropriated form.

Begin with Rachel Kessler’s free write: Pretend that you are lost at sea or in space. Write a letter/postcard to the thing you miss the most (mine was to a lovely teacup I bought in Holland). Or write a letter/postcard about a horrendous vacation. Feel free to flirt with fiction.


PS The answer to last week’s riddle is a tree.  Rings – get it?


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