Where I’m Writing From: Abe’s Penny

If stories are maps, showing you the contours of the land and where to find water, buried treasure and rest rooms, and poems are like letters, with an origin and a destination and often—though not always—an intended, then the logical confluence of the two would be a postcard.

Abe’s Penny, the “micro-magazine” founded and curated by sisters Anna and Tess Knoebel, is an art and literary journal in postcard form. Each month’s issue is a collaboration between writer and photographer, consisting of four installments mailed over the course of four weeks. As they arrive one by one, their narratives unfold—as short stories, poetry, vignettes—with the accompanying photographs.

The result is both more and less than your average literary magazine. The “less” is purposeful. In 2004, when the Knoebels first conceived of it, the idea was to have Abe’s Penny stand out in the crowd because of its brevity—“to make it so short, people wouldn’t have a good reason not to read it.” But the format also gives an extra dimension to the work, and pieces are not just poems and tales but messages—from the dead, from the neighbors, from a runaway, from your dad. They’re having a wonderful time, or they’re not. They wish you were here, or more likely they don’t.

The arrangement makes sense: Anna is an editor by trade, Tess a designer, and the artists and writers they’ve put together are well-paired. And as Anna tells it,

We also wrote postcards all the time. We drove cross country together four different times, buying and sending postcards all the way. (I remember stopping at the last gas stop in North Carolina because I had forgotten to get postcards in that state. I asked the cashier if they had any postcards for sale and she answered, “We sure don’t!”) So postcards were an obvious choice for medium: small, mailable, appealing!

The cards are beautiful objects, nicely printed, crisp and dreamy-looking at the same time. Each one is hand-addressed and stamped and then subtly altered, by the time it reaches its destination, with local bar codes and cancellations. The pleasures of subscribing to a physical periodical are magnified here, because every card is a tiny serialization—you want to reread them as they accumulate each week, stack them in a small pile in the corner of your desk. The idea of something personal arriving in the mail automatically carries a whiff of nostalgia these days, and Abe’s Penny uses that sense of anticipation in a good, intentional way. The Knoebels purposely planned their project as something that people could read “in the time it takes to walk from their mailbox to their front door.” And that’s a little slice of time worth appreciating.

You can subscribe here, or browse their archives. There’s also a children’s version, Abe’s Peanut. The image above is from Abe’s Penny Volume 2.11, by photographer Colin Clark and writer Liz Colville.

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3 Comments to Where I’m Writing From: Abe’s Penny

  1. February 10, 2011 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

    This is wonderful. Thanks for pointing the way.

  2. February 11, 2011 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    I love postcards (I have a sizeable vintage collection).
    I love micro-fiction.
    But $48 for 6 months?
    To quote Rosecrans Baldwin from his postcard: “Kajow!”

  1. By on February 12, 2011 at 9:33 am

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