Poetry by Post: Volume 1, Issue 4

Poetry by Post: Volume 1, Issue 4

7th May 2020

In a world in which so much content is posted to social media the second it's created, I've kind of begun to relish the feeling of holding images of these mailings back, instead waiting for subscribers' first glimpses to be the ones they get when they pull them out of their mailboxes. We wait for so few things anymore, it's easy to forget that there's magic in anticipation. Mystery. Desire. An ache that makes the fulfillment so much more satisfying. 

April's mailing features the poem "Spring Planting" by Victoria Chang. It's a poem about gardening and crows and a relationship ended. And there's a lovely reference to Chinese calligraphers who rise early and watch the world, brush in hand. So it felt right conceptually for a brush to be the tool to turn to for this mailing. I used a pointed brush to create a messy profusion of bougainvillea leaves (loosely, mind you, for an illustrator I am not) that are meant to feel a touch bird-like. When you turn the page, the same "leaves" are printed in black in order to read more as crows. While image making remains extremely difficult for me, if I can land on a concept for the image and how it might shift in a meaningful way upon opening, it gives me a foothold I need to generate the artwork.

The stamp arrangement is another opportunity to generate interesting thematic connections and resonances, and this particular grouping kind of miraculously coalesced to do just that. Franklin Roosevelt had a long-term affair with Eleanor's social secretary, and while the poem doesn't necessarily imply infidelity (it might just be the official end of a relationship already severed), those stamps create a subtle echo of the notions of desire and pain at work in the poem. The stamp of Nebraska's sower was lovely in offering a visual parallel to the speaker's act of planting, and the light purple stamp on the right commemorates "those who fought polio" -- and thus speaks very clearly to our specific moment in time as we grapple as a society with the consequences of a widespread disease. The 39-center I simply chose for its color and high denomination, and the final 3-cent stamp served to fill out the remaining postage. But I love the palette they create, which I meant to offer the burst of color that the speaker anticipates in planting bougainvillea, pansies, hyacinth, and crocus.
The other resonance here is one of color: purple is fugitive. Having had no background to speak of in art before going into the MFA program at the University of Iowa Center for the Book, I learned this the hard way. In my first iteration of Poetry by Post, I printed a broadside that then had a shimmery silver square of paper adhered atop it. It was meant to look like a mirror, part of which I would then wax in order to see some of the image printed below. Well. As my still-damp broadsides sat with their newly silver sheets attached, some purple that I had used in the background image seeped into the silver paper and turned it a muddy mauve color. Sob! This was a more technically complex project than I had ever tackled, and the fact that the purple ink traveled was devastating. That's when I learned from people more in the know than I was that purple is fugitive. It will leak and escape and infiltrate in a way that is not true of other colors. So for a poem about "a new woman" and the hurt and pain of estrangement from a once-beloved, the idea of a fugitive color felt just right.
The lettering on the envelope was done with the same brush I used for the image. I'm not very practiced at brush lettering, but I love how wild and unwieldy it can look, which felt like yet another visual complement to the content inside. 

I'm now one-third of the way through this project for the year and am starting to contemplate what I want this all to look like after this year comes to an end. But after imagining and planning this for so long, it's really nice to be in the thick of it. Like watching a garden you tended from seed finally start to look like something.