Thursday, March 2, 2017

Peace, in Batches

Peace. Poetry. Postcards. Three great things, but do they taste great together? I honestly wasn’t sure, but I decided to find out.

Rut & funk
It began a couple of months ago, when I was in a writing funk—not just uninspired but anti-inspired, if that’s a thing. The election, inauguration, and attendant tangle of terribleness had me questioning whether writing was even worthwhile. An all-pervading depression had settled over my literary life, a suffocating blanket that whispered, “Who cares if you do this?

Then I saw an announcement that a group of Seattle poets were organizing a “Peace Poetry Postcard” event, a month-long writing marathon akin to the August Poetry Postcard Fest. Like the August fest, the Peace Postcard project invited participants to write a poem on a postcard every day for a month (February) and send it to another participant. But all of the poems had to have the theme of “peace.”

I admit I blanched. “Peace” is one of those poetry themes, like “memories” and “moon” and, oh, I don’t know, let’s just throw in a really bad one—“feelings”—that have been done to death. I couldn’t imagine getting too far down that road without skidding into Trite Gulch. But I felt like a kick-in-the-butt poetry marathon might be a good thing to spring me out of my rut, and I liked the challenge of trying to write peace poems that didn’t make me want to hurl. And though I knew the impetus of the project was to write poems about peace, as in not-war, I was intrigued by other interpretations of the word. What did “peace” mean in my day-to-day life? In the life of my town? In our larger culture?

Teeth, pulling
So I signed up, gathered some postcards, and got ready for February 1st to arrive. It did, and…nothing happened. No poem came to mind. Days went by—nada. Not interested. In my defense, February is one of the busiest times at my day job, but I could feel that stubborn depression still sucking the enthusiasm out of me—“Peace poems? Oh, please.” By February 10th—still no poems, or even the impulse to write one—I had to admit that I was on the verge of blowing off this perfectly nice project, this show of solidarity that those kind people in Seattle had worked hard to set up. I was going to be a lazy-faire inactivist. Yep, that was me.

Then one night around the 15th, the guilt got to me. I’d received a trickle of postcards—sweet missives, musings, rants—from other people in the project. And while I didn’t imagine anyone would miss getting a postcard from me—we didn’t even know each other!—still, I figured I could jot down some lines on a few postcards to ping back a signal to these good-hearted people. Some haiku-ettes or something—how hard could that be? So I grabbed a notebook and started writing little poems. I thought I might try five or so; I ended up writing about ten that night.

A wilder gear
An interesting thing happened while I was writing that batch of poems—the first few were forced and clunky, but around poem #4 they kicked into a higher gear and got more interesting. As I found last year during the August Postcard Poetry Fest, after my engine was warmed up, the topics and tones got wilder and more risky. In other words, better. So for the rest of the month (well, two weeks, with such a late start), rather than sit down every day and try to crank out a poem, I’d wait a few days, then write a batch of 5 or 6. And every time, it was the same: The first few were serviceable; the later ones took the leaps.

By February 28th, I’d written and mailed the full complement of 28 poems. Goooooal! And out of those, maybe 8 or 10 were worth polishing up and doing something with. For me, 8 or 10 possibly okay poems is a good haul for a month’s worth of work. And I have a pile of sweet postcard poems that I got from other people. I don’t know if we fostered more peace in the world—I’m guessing most of us aren’t the type to take up arms to begin with—but there’s something to be said for anyone trying, pen in hand, to stave off the oily waters lapping up against us. Or the heavy, depressing blankets whispering their nonsense. Yes, it’s not enough—there are still phone calls, petitions, marches, donations, and mid-term elections to deal with. But with so many fronts to fight on, making art of it is still worthwhile. It makes us, maybe, a thing worth preserving.


  1. I didn't do this fest because I had the same feelings that you expressed about doing poetry about peace. After reading your review, I think I will try it next February.

    1. I know what you mean, Kristin! I do like that the beauty of these postcard projects is that you can make them into whatever you want. For a few poems, I riffed on "peace" phrases like Peace Train and peace talks and Peace Like a River. That unifying theme helped narrow down the choices, but the fun part was broadening the interpretation.

  2. The back side of the theme of course is "the lack thereof." Usually when I started to write and note what was missing, I usually found myself looking at spaces I should be filling in. I also found spaces where I do have my finger in the dike. Having spent most of my life in the Seattle area, I guess I have adapted to operating under gray skies.

    1. Thanks for your reply. What an interesting take, the idea of missing and filling in. That could be a whole book's theme right there.