Those of you who know me personally, even a little, probably know that I’m a great lover of snail mail. I remember coveting stationery, envelopes, and stickers pretty much since I could write, and even though email has slowed down the flow to a certain extent, I still have an entire shelf in my home office packed tight with correspondence supplies. I write letters and birthday cards and thank-you notes and get-well-soons and condolences, and I’m always on the lookout for occasions that call for postage stamps. My main capitulation to this whole age of expedience is that I’ve come to favor postcards over letters—not always, but the instant gratification aspect is hard to pass up.
I feel bad that didn’t remember to put in a plug this year, at the end of July, for the August Poetry Postcard Project, but if anyone’s interested you could always contact them to see if they take stragglers. It’s a kind of chain letter, where you cycle through a list of names and send an original poem, written on the postcard of your choice, to someone each day. I did the project last year and it was both stimulating and incredibly grueling. Even the kind of doggerel I write takes a certain amount of application, and summoning the poetry muse every day for the entire month had a bit of boot camp to it. But in a good way, and in the end it was quite satisfying to have produced this body of work—I’m no poet, and some of it was pretty awful, but a few of them I really did like.
My memory was jogged by a lovely piece on the New York Review of Books blog by Charles Simic on The Lost Art of Postcard Writing. In it, he bemoans the fact that even though it’s summer, high vacation season, he’s only received a single postcard. (Mr. Simic! Send me your address and I promise to rectify that.) He goes on to ramble a bit on the subject of souvenir cards and the attenuated messages written home—nothing groundbreaking to be said here, for all the obvious reasons, but the little twinge of wistfulness is a pleasant indulgence:
Postcards continued to be used by people of modest means to convey important family news long after telephones ceased to be a novelty. I once came across one that said:
“Francis Brown died last night, funeral on Tuesday.”
That was all there was. The image on the other side of the card was of a famous race horse from 1920s, so I immediately pictured Mr. Brown with a straw hat, a cane in his gloved hand and carnation in his lapel, stopping for a beer in a saloon before catching the streetcar to go to the track in Boston or San Francisco.
However, I’m not sure I’m completely aboard with his closing sentiment:
So, dear reader, if you happen, on your daily rounds, to come across in a coffee shop or a restaurant some poor soul sitting alone over a postcard and visibly struggling with what to write, take pity on him or her. They are the last of a species, and are almost certainly middle aged or elderly, already nervous and worried about all the problems older people face in this country.
I may answer to middle aged, but I don’t appreciate the “nervous and worried” label. I feel good about my postcard-writing, and can only hope to set a good example for all those whippersnappers who don’t remember what it was like to actually lick a stamp. My more pressing question, though, is this: Do we think Mr. Simic picked the image accompanying the blog piece himself? I wouldn’t be surprised.