Poetry by Post: Volume 1, Issue 5

Poetry by Post: Volume 1, Issue 5

10th Jun 2020

What's been especially interesting to me about doing these Poetry by Post mailings back to back to back is how variable the experience is. One month, the essay is particularly hard to write. Another month, I am beyond frustrated with image creation. The month after that, it's the printing that trips me up. I'm getting more streamlined about the processes for certain, and slightly more confident in my instincts, but it's just fascinating to me from a production standpoint how different processes crop up to cry out for a little more attention or care each time around. Still waiting for the month where everything scoots along without drama or fanfare. I won't hold my breath. 
But there are certainly rewards to committing to this rigorous schedule, namely that I'm learning a heck of a lot. From the technical side of things, I've learned how to create a data merge in InDesign, which is now one of my favorite tasks every month: generating that new list of labels and then picking them up from the printer a few days later. Fields and spreadsheets, I tell you! Straight up magic. 
While every month I desperately want to bring in a professional photographer to properly capture these mailings, the timing is always down to the wire, and I mostly am making due with a rushed amateur shoot in the moments before I cart them all down to the post office. But as the months tick by, I'm realizing how important and necessary this record feels to me, which means that t I'm not only trying to give it more space as a process, reserving at least two full hours for photos, but also pushing myself more behind the camera, working carefully with light, shadow and focus to establish the dreamy, romantic mood that I hope others get when they encounter this project.

May's poem was "Housekeeping" by Natasha Trethewey, from the collection Domestic Work. I would brag about what a cool line-up of poets I'm getting to work with because -- Naomi Shihab Nye! Li-Young Lee! Natasha Trethewey! These are major poets! -- but truth be told, I literally did nothing but ask. Much like shop customers who actively choose to send letters through the mail at a time when it's neither expedient nor necessary, poets are generally deeply warm and wonderful people. But for real? Natasha Trethewey has won a Pulitzer Prize. She was the US Poet Laureate. She is a celebrity in the poetry world, and it was an honor to work with one of her poems. 

Trethewey was born in Mississippi, which is why I chose to use that extraordinary magnolia stamp. I've been keeping sheets and sheets of that stamp on hand forever, knowing the perfect project for it was out there. This was it. And because the poem catalogs chores that the speaker and her mother do in the name of frugality, like "keep neck bones / for soup", the poultry stamp felt like a perfect fit. The "Wildlife Conservation" stamp of a turkey felt like a similar nod, the Pony Express a reference to a bygone era where distances were vast and news slow in coming, even if the USPS was doing its best. And the Thomas Paine stamp is kind of just there to do the heavy lifting of getting the stamps to 55 cents, in addition to being visually stunning. 

The way the light plays off the wax seals just makes my heart sing. 

For the other mailings so far, the style of lettering I wanted to use fell into place early and was an integral part of the design. This time around, it was the last element of the envelope I chose. American Cursive made great sense for a poem about old, dull letters. Italic felt both romantic and masculine for my February mailing. Foundational hand seemed like just the right fit for a poem about creating strong foundations for children, and brush lettering was just right for a poem that referenced Chinese calligraphers. But this one stumped me. I finally landed on Copperplate because it offered, I thought, a nice parallel to the domestic chores detailed in the poem. They are done (and delivered in the poem) methodically, with precision and confidence, and that kind of practiced skill is what allows Copperplate to be so beautiful as well. I'm still getting there, but it has been a treat to learn from Cheryl Dyer over the past several years of her teaching at my shop, and these rounds are nothing if not ample practice.

Next month, I'm halfway through this year's line-up, so I'm deep in thought about how to modify this project moving forward. The unfortunate truth is that I have two major goals which could not be more opposed to one another. The first is to share poetry with as many people as want to get it. The second is to produce a deluxe experience. I'm in a sweet spot right now where the handwork remains possible, if difficult to keep up with. But I can't let the project grow any more, really, if I want to continue to, you know, see my family. So if you have any reactions, lay them on me! I'm open to hearing every idea you've got.