Writing Prompt: Postcard Poems


Today, Feb. 4, is National Thank a Mail Carrier Day--and what a lot we have to thank our mail carriers for, here at the beginning of 2021! Hail to the mail, and hail to the folks who have brought us letters, groceries, gifts, and sundries for the past year. We thank you with deep gratitude! 

In honor of National Thank a Mail Carrier Day, I thought I'd bring out one of my favorite writing prompts: the postcard poem. It's exactly what it sounds like:

Write a poem that can fit on a postcard. 

Many poets who've done postcard poems take advantage of its epistolary form, addressing their poems to someone specific. Lauren Ireland's 2014 collection Dear Lil Wayne, for example, is composed of postcards she sent the rapper during his incarceration in 2010. The book begins:

July 14 2010. Dear Lil Wayne, Hey. I hate it when my hands smell like pennies. Do you think we're too sad for each other? Last night I dreamed the richness of gasoline, ropes of hair, canvas, that dead bird. I mean almost everyone is lonely. Almost no one's amazing. I know--how about we ride into a time that hasn't been invented yet? Then we'll invent music.

Sometimes poets use the inherently visual form of the postcard to play with images (especially collage) in conversation with their text, as in this collage postcard by Kenwood Elmslie:

Postcard with repeated image of a woman interspersed with text: Hi guys thanks for waiting for actionless airlessness to resume.

You might play with text and image in a few different ways. For example, what happens if you send a postcard with the same image to different people: one you know and one you don't; one you love and one you find intimidating; etc? What happens if you cut-and-paste images together to form a collage, then write postcard text on the back? What happens if you create a collage of images (from your home this week; from your dreams last night) using words alone, as Ireland does in her postcard poems to Lil Wayne? 

The shortness of the postcard as a literary form encourages us to write down only the most vivid and essential details of what we are trying to say--which makes the writing of postcards rather akin to the writing of poems. Postcards are a fascinatingly flexible form. Within that small space, you can say and do anything you like. Why not send someone a vivid postcard today? When you do, be sure to thank your mail carrier!