In 2007 Paul Nelson and Lana Ayers launched The August Poetry Postcard Festival (APPF). Participants pay a small fee, with the intention of writing a postcard poem a day to each member in their assigned group of 31 poets. htpps://www.paulenelson.com/august-poetry-postcard-fest/
As one who sent postcards to friends and family, plucking touristy designs from loaded racks in places as diverse as Pismo and Prague––before Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter decimated that bounty––I wondered: how could I write to thirty-one people I didn’t know? Questions (a happy constant of my former profession as a librarian} about those in my assigned group, beset me.
What could I find out about the person on my list with an address in Nagoya so I could write a relevant poem? Where was Nagoya anyway? What unusual places could I learn about? Were there academics in the group? What interesting jobs or hobbies did they have? Were their political views similar to mine? Did we have friends in common? And, what unexpected discoveries would come my way and stimulate the birth of my thirty-one poems?
I used all the popular tools at my disposal––Facebook, LinkedIN, Goodreads, Google, Google Images, web pages, blogs, Amazon, and, as a last resort and with great discernment, Rate My Professor and Wikipedia. I plundered databases that required subscriptions or access from a library: Britannica, WorldCat, the Oxford English Dictionary, and Ancestry.
I spent an average of 2 to 2½ hours researching––one-sided and uninvited as the process was––before I flash-typed a poem and pasted it onto purchased postcards.
When no information could be found, I let surnames drive the poems, Lark, for example, and the German translation for King. On one desperate occasion, I extracted material from the library building plan of the poet’s city. Surely I could make a poem out of enchanting references to “flamingo pink shelves” and the name of the library’s first land donor, Thatcher Magoun.
Facebook’s yield was highest, but digging through other data sites produced satisfying tags for poem-making. Imagine my pleasure when I found
- an expat who spent time in Nagoya, was a member of the Japan-based “1000 Poets for Change,” and took first place in the 2015 Vancouver (WA) Haiku Invitational
- a poet’s place of residence was not only Joseph, Oregon but also called Hah-um-sah-pah, Oregon
- a Ph.D. from Kent State whose Google image depicted a purple-clad professor against a backdrop of brambly branches and a brick building
- a poet whose job in marketing was to “develop win themes and client pain points” (what does that mean?)
- a poet’s letter forwarded to political leaders questioning 45’s mental stability
- friends in common: Nancy Pearl, “America’s librarian,” and, surprise! my daughter-in-law’s sister, Shanna Noel, a Bible illustrator with her own line of Hallmark cards
- a naturalist, who rambled through New England wetlands and forests and, a teacher for a nonprofit who gave classes on banding birds
- one poet’s list of 548 books on GoodReads including the piquantly named Proust & the Squid
- a participant who ordered her postcards from Estonia
- the discovery of the existence of a Poetry Pole (address: the Path of the Mailman) in parched Yakima
- a maker of story quilts, born within 22 months of me who attended two of the colleges I did and was connected to the same church denomination as I
When I told my wife I’d found a participant’s birthday on Ancestry, her accusative tone was undisguised: “You’re stalking people.” So I wrote a poem for Poet #3 who had “wren” in her email address and whose poetry personified a “walkyr,” (Obs. “watchful, vigilant”).
Indeed, I am. I own it/A digi-stalker/a Googling people gawker/a LinkedIn and Facebook talker/discovering in the public locker/a punk rocker, a sweet talker/ a paster caulker, a d. trump mocker/or a Steller Jay squawker/ limericking sleepwaker/ and today, a wrensong walker.
Read Digi-stalker, Part II to find out what happened when I sent that poem off to #3 on my list. Meanwhile, believe me when I say, I no longer embrace the lines that sprung from my pen right after I signed up for APPF:
Of poems epistolary
to a stranger
I am wary.