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Postcard Publications: Thumbs Up & Down

A few new literary postcard ventures have started up recently – not a new concept, and one The Alternative Press from the 70’s used effectively as part of their literary activism. I’m a big fan of ‘ephemera’ lit – that “publication” that doesn’t fit as neatly into the standards of print-cycle magazine, but has unique print qualities that make it attractive. For me, postcards definitely qualify.

Of the couple I’ve seen come in so far, I have to say I haven’t been overly-impressed with the print quality. This is tough, since it seems in recent years, the post office has taken to stamping, inking, and stickering more and more space on the already size-limited real estate available to the sender. This creates problems when the text meant to be that card’s installment of the journal ends up inked over and unreadable. While the stickers can usually be peeled off, not all post offices use these, so there may be ink at the top and the bottom of the card, making fairly good-sized chunks of the text unreadable.

As if this wasn’t enough, there also seems to be a growing trend in postcards getting a layer of the cardstock ripped off as they go through some sort of roller system. This is usually on the text side of the card and so may also end up ripping off the layer with text on it or causing damage to the art front of the card. Non-glossy cards (the better environmental choice) often come through looking as though a Matchbox car did a peel out on the art side, with black smudges and wear spots, and the text side with ink stamps and tears across the text. I’m certainly not expecting these cards to come through the post in a pristine state; if fact, these markings can become a part of the art and text itself, adding to the character of these publications.

In all, I love the idea of literary postcards. I participate each year in the August Poetry Postcard Festival, and just hope that other participants are aware of how the poems are coming through at their final destination (I’ve received blank postcards, where it looks like someone put their poem on with tape or a sticker, and the postal sorting machines have ripped it off completely). While I have a great sense appreciation for the concept, the execution is sometimes a disappointment. [Pictured: Abe’s Penny Volume 3.2 – can’t tell who the artist is or title because that information was inked over by the post office stamp on the reverse side, whereas the art side got black and orange ink stamps and a brown smudge. To their credit, Abe’s Penny does post photo images of the content online, often inked and torn as well, but when I tried to find this particular card, the image online was different than the one I received.]

An alternative to actually receiving the individual cards sent in the mail is something like Tuesday: An Art Project, whose set of postcards come wrapped in a paper package with even more poems and information about the publication itself. This is a fun way to get the cards, read them, and then share them with others. Since only one poem or artwork featured on the picture side of the card, they are less likely to be damaged. They are also then each a piece suitable for framing vs. postcards that are art on one side and an author’s writing on the other. The quality of the paper and the letterpress printing and photo printing (rather than simple photocopies) also assure that these will be more likely to survive the postal gamut unscathed.

I’m all for postcard literature. With all our digital access, there’s still something fun and special about getting “real mail.” Each time I receive postcard lit, I read it – usually immediately, and then again later. It’s not the longer, sustained reading I most enjoy, but I do appreciate getting jolts of lit in my day. Just enough to remind me to take a deep breath and savor the moment.

Some postcard journals that I’m aware of:

Abe’s Penny
Hoot Review (forthcoming)
The Postcard Press

If you know of or are a part of others, please let me know.

Spread the word!