Postcard Poems: an experiment in form

The final challenge over at Khara House’s Our Lost Jungle was to create your own poetic form and write a poem or two using that form. In some ways this was a daunting challenge but after I gave it some thought I realized all poetry forms come out of some poetry writing. The daunting part was Khara, bless her heart, wanted us to write the form and fit the poem to it. I suppose it wouldn’t be a challenge to place the horse before the cart.

I am big on postcards (I’m so this was a way to combine my lifelong postcard hobby and my poetry pursuits. I’ve written and collected a lot of postcards and written lots of poems on the backs of postcards but never thought of them as postcard poems per say.  This was an opportunity to set out on for some new territory.

Here are my postcard poetry form guidelines. There are seven of them. This seems like a lot but I wanted to incorporate all of Khara’s eight challenges.  If you want a simpler version skip down toward the bottom. I’ve summarized them there.

Postcard Poem

  1. A prose poem of not more than 36 words.(rule #5)
  2. Consists of three monostich sentences each of 12 words or less and 12 to 18 syllables. (rule #’s 1,5,6)
  3. The poem will contain, refer to or mention three elements: 1) some type of travel or destination or means of conveyance, 2) reveal a secret (personal, social or cultural, etc.,) or a humorous truth about yourself or someone else that the addressee does not know, and 3) be an ekphrasis, referring to a real or imagined image postcard image.  .  Here is a list of ekphrastic poetry. (rule #’s 3, 4,7)
  4. The first two sentences will be grammatically parallel; the third can be any structure. (rule #,4,7,8.
  5. Two of the sentences will have either an internal rhyme, alliteration or end rhyme. (rule #’s 2,6)
  6. There must be at least one figure of speech or trope (see list here), metonymy, metaphor, simile, personification, synecdoche, allegory, symbol (to name a few) in the poem. (#6,7)
  7.  Finally, the poem must be addressed to a person’s first name (real or imagined) and have a closing. (rule #8)

This may seem like a lot of rules (OK, I admit it is a lot of rules) but it is not so different than writing a postcard message. Hopefully, it will serve as a kind of literary echo of the normal postcard message. The rules should function to enhance the writing and bring forth something out of our poetry compost (Khara’s lost jungle) that may grow into a poem that blooms for us and may hold significance for readers in each season of our lives.

Simple version

If you don’t like these rules, try this. Write a poem of one and no more than three sentences of roughly equal length with a maximum of 36 words total that resembles a postcard greeting. Imagine writing to a loved one (or hated one) back home from an exotic (or boring location) and mention the image on the postcard you are writing on. Use colorful language (figures of speech: metaphor, simile, hyperbole. End with a short closing phrase and your first name (real or imagined). Include a closing phrase with your name if you wish.

The advantage of postcard poetry is that you never can run out of inspiration. All you need is a postcard and some imagination. Here is an example.

Here’s Picasso’s two hands with flowers. You and I now know love is never that bright or simple.
I’ll sign the papers before we get to Vegas.
Don’t look back, Kris

Now, it’s your turn. Try your hand at a postcard poem. Let me know how it comes out.


Ginsburg’s American Sentences

Allen Ginsberg

This weeks poetry challenge over at Khara’s House blog is to write a gaggle of short poems, called American Sentences and Monostich.  Both forms are one sentence poems the latter being limited to one line, while the former is 17 syllables, like a haiku without the line breaks. You can click on Khara’s link above and scroll down to the comment section to see my initial attempts at the form. This was a gas.

The American Sentence

The American Sentence was the invention of Beat poet, Alan Ginsberg (June 3, 1926 – April 5, 1997). Knowing Japanese haiku was written not in three lines but rather vertically, Ginsberg suggested a similar poetic disciple to sharpen the eye and ear of the American poet and their audience. The American version would be linear and not limited by the traditional Japanese haiku. Another influence that contributed to Ginsberg’s invention was his reading of the mantra at the end of the Heart Sutra in Buddhism: Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha. Notice the mantra has 17 syllables. You can read more about the development and practice of the American Sentence here.

I think Ginsberg was having a little fun as well by suggesting this form. As always, he was exploring correspondences and associating wildly. Calling it an American Sentence has no little amount of irony in it, being an amalgamation of cultural influences and promoted by an irreverent outcast of the then American poetic establishment. In many ways, Ginsberg was ahead and behind his time. The American Sentence could be seen as a forward movement of poetic form, a collage of sorts, and behind in that it exemplified in poetry the American melting pot brewing another hybrid form. Not surprising, poets are visionaries, inventors of new forms.

Alan Ginsberg on stage

I saw Allan Ginsberg reading poetry in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in the late 1970’s. He was the embodiment of the disheveled hipster seated regally on center stage in his slightly over-sized wool blazer, scarf and beads. He read Howl from his book of the same name and projected an enormous amount of energy from is voice. (I have yet to find a recording of him that does justice to this live performance. They all seem rather tame.) Today’s slam poets had nothing on him that day. He literally trembled and shook while reading Howl. On stage at least, he appeared to be a man without pretense and plenty of cagey humor. He was definitely having fun. He loved playing with audiences as much as he did forms.

Paul Nelson’s American Sentences

Paul Nelson has written extensively on the American Sentence at his blog of the same name here. Nelson has done more than any other person to promote and explore the limits of the form. His blog is dedicated to the form and has several interviews and essays by him and others on the American Sentence. Besides this, he’s uses American Sentence as a poetic practice, writing one each day since January 1, 2001. He is a master of the form. See many examples here

If you haven’t tried this form, please do. Leave me one in the comment section below. It’s a gas.

The grieving muscle; a challenge prose poem

I’m sailing well into the month of August’s poetry challenges. I’m doing two this month that requires a poem a day, plus another two or three on one challenge once a week. These end up being drafts of works I may or may not take up later but so far I’m keeping pace.

This weeks challenge over at Khara Houses’ blog, Our Lost Jungle, is to write a prose poem, that curious hybrid of poetry and prose. I’ve written many over the years, most in the form of letter poems. I have a provisional title for a book and a good portion of the “letters” written for them. I hope to make these the basis of my second book of poems after publishing my first next year.

Another related form of the prose poems, another of my personal favorites, is the postcard poem. I’m doing a challenge over at August Postcard Poetry Fest(ival) blog to write a postcard poem a day sponsored by Striped Water Poets and hosted this year by Brendan McBreen. The only requirement for a postcard poem is that it fit on a postcard. To date I’ve sent out 15 poems and received eight. That’s a pretty good average, according to Brendan.

Below is one prose poem I wrote for Khara’s challenge this week. The other, on a lighter topic I posted on Khara’s blog comments. As you will see, my prose poems are prosy, letter like. I imagine speaking to an intimate friend, once capable of following my tortured thoughts and feelings. I like this voice because it gives me a platform and some leeway to speculate on a variety of subjects and themes.

Finding the grief muscle

To die or not to die is not the question. The questions don’t matter since most are easily answered and the complicated ones we study to be entertained for a time and only after a hard time come to learn they were the wrong questions. Like the one about what it feels like to be dead, which cannot be known, since the evidence is scanty or suspect — being based on near-death accounts, which by definition are not death experiences, only approximates, mere near misses with death, not death itself. No, the only questions are to the living, those who clean blood from concrete or carpet, those who empty the clothes closets, those who must sort through favorite toys, those who must ponder death as they lay dying and survivors who carry the additional, seemingly intolerable burden, of months and sometimes years of grief  — an experience always soaked in the rain of their imagination which only prolongs the inevitable day of liberation, spending their days within an encapsulated heart, setting up shop in a back alley with the freeway roaring like hell overhead, dutifully producing. We grievers cannot miss the important practice of watching through a blur children play or couples at a fountain sharing themselves or the faint stars appearing in the opposite sky at sunset. These signs, these twilight stars are stars of life and death, true avengers, like a child saviors born in the midst of grief and death, small beginnings, lights given us to resurrect our experience of innocence, a new muscle capable of lifting us off the shore of our sorrow each day, so we may once again fly into song with the sweet dying people who remain.   

All you need is love; it’s not quite all we need

I’m doing two poetry challenges this month. One is a poetry form challenge hosted by Khara House over at her blog, Our Lost Jungle. The other is a challenge to write a poem a day sponsored by Striped Water Poets and hosted this year by Brendan McBreen over at August Postcard Poetry Fest(ival) blog. Both challenges foster networking between poets and give them ample opportunities to expand and deepen their poetry skills.

This week Khara challenged us to write a poem in Pleiades form: seven lines, each beginning with the same letter or sound and lines with alliteration. I began on Tuesday to piece together a Pleiades before climbing Mt. Healy with my daughter and her boyfriend on Wednesday. On the trip up the mountain there was plenty of opportunity to alliterate. “Quaking quads.” “Little steps, no regrets.” “Thunder thighs take me home.”

This morning was deadline day so I got back at it and may have gone overboard with the alliteration but I couldn’t help myself. I like alliteration. Alliteration was part of the reason I was drawn to poetry. I like a lines of internal rhymes. Not that I’m good at it but it still grabs me when I hear one.

Turns out I came up with the dark theme but I make no excuse for this. Poetry should give voice to all things great and small and dark and light. What would poetry be if it were only made up of angels and bright smiles? Most certainly, a one-sided monster.

The great thing about doing a poetry form that you wouldn’t ordinarily is that it often reveals subjects and correspondences that you would otherwise not uncover. Obviously, my subconsciousness was thinking of hate crimes and the ugly side of our history in the western hemisphere. Not that I think we are unique in the world in this. Since the Nazi craze began in the first half of the 20th-century, there have come other numerous mass exterminations plans. It is obvious that large political movements can morph into a race crushing machine when led by power-hungry maniacs set on building a myth of perfection around one particular race. Needless to say, these mean movements also spawn weak and disturbed individuals who commit atrocious acts on innocents in the name of some ideal of racial or ethnic purity. I think this is what was on my mind when I wrote these lines.


Fast the innocents fell in fields full of fooled fellowers
fighting for fatherland and Fuhrer’s glory.
Fast forward, shy fourscore, this ferocious fiasco:
fiends still stumbling on vicious lies with glorious goals.
Fooled again, they gather guns and ghoulish gumption,
fermenting death and sorrow from Norway to the states.
Frightening is this horrendous heritage of hate.

I think it would be naive to think hate inspired violence will play itself out. It always astonishes me that the foot soldiers of hate often come from well-educated but overly idealistic and morally weak minions fed on an ideological diet based on fear in which the goal of every meal is racial or religious supremacy.  History shows humanity’s ability to thwart these genocidal-based atrocities is dismal. Right now butchers are in operation in Syria, Mali, Afganistan, Berma and a dozen other countries.

I saw at the opening of the Olympics in which the crowds were a gush singing the old Beatles song, “All we need is love.” Boy, I wish that love was all we did need. I think alongside of love we need a good dose of justice, diplomacy, acceptance, integrity, honor and compassion. A little poetry wouldn’t hurt too.