How sending postcards to strangers helped heal me.
Updated: Jun 30, 2021
I spent last August writing postcards to strangers and receiving them. That we were five months deep into a pandemic, that the postal service was under attack, that it was my birth month and felt a little bit like a 31 day celebration was in order, that in a list of 31 people, there was one woman with my first name and one woman with my last name--all of it seemed a little like a miracle and just enough reasons for me to believe I could accomplish this small task in a time when I felt like I could do nothing.
While perusing Submittable and procrastinating sending new poems into the void, I saw a call for the Poetry Postcard Festival, (fondly known as PoPo). Now in its 15th year, poets from all over the globe sign up to send a poem-a-day on a postcard to all 31 people in their group. (Once you register, you'll get assigned to a group). I was intrigued and signed up immediately. It would at least hold me accountable to a daily writing practice.
It was this daily process of writing and receiving these little poems that helped steer my mental health into a better space as I navigated this world of isolation. While it was easy to say “we’re all in this together,” I had to keep reminding others that we are not “all in the same boat.” It seemed some people I encountered were navigating these tumultuous seas by yacht with a cocktail in hand or in a Navy Destroyer, battle-ready with a team of workers to navigate, plan and execute any mission. I, however, was on an inflatable flamingo raft with a slow leak.
And so I began writing postcard poems. One of the rules of PoPo is that you must write your poem as it comes to you directly on the postcard, no pre-writes, no edits, no days to plan your thoughts. It was just me carving out a quiet time to put pen to card and write exactly what I was seeing, thinking and feeling in that very moment. This immediacy, this present mindfulness, not only helped me process and document a very strange time, but it had an unexpected impact on how I write now. Because a postcard has a finite amount of space, I found it helped me pay extra attention to both line breaks and concision, as well as the beauty of my surroundings. The call of the crow on my porch, the slant of light on my wood floor, the smell of honeysuckle.
When I look back on the poems that I wrote that month, almost all are poems of joy, of gratitude, of forgiveness and grace. While it may have helped that I was in love with Ross Gay’s “Book of Delights” a collection of “delightful” essays that I read that summer, I felt obligated to send a missive of joy to someone’s mailbox. We’re all hurting in some way, it seemed too cruel to send a poem of anxiety and worry. When I intentionally and purposefully sought out delight, my postcard poems came easy.
Getting an almost daily gift of a poem from a stranger truly connected me to a "tribe" of poets in a time of isolation. Not long after PoPo 2020 ended, I signed up for 2021, and you can too! It's not too late to register for this August's Poetry Postcard Festival. Spread some joy with me, and maybe, you too can feel like you've healed from this strange and difficult time.