THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY

THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY
April 12, 2016

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Poetry Friday: Postcard 25 and a Guest Postcard Poet


The Spiral Staircase Reading Series is a recent addition to the local literary scene. It’s run by Dan Kagan (recipient of Postcard Poem 14) and takes place at the Annapolis Bookstore. The bookstore has rare and antique books, a great children’s section, a coffee bar and – you guessed it – a spiral staircase.

 As a featured poet, I was allotted a generous 15-25 minutes. Hearing one person read for that length of time can test anyone’s attention, so I read just a few poems. Then, I led a postcard-based writing exercise I call “Points of Entry.” The exercise takes less than 10 minutes and can be done with any age group.

Points of Entry Writing Exercise

Materials: an old postcard, a clipping from a magazine, or a page in an art history book; a pen or pencil.

Jot down notes about the postcard for five possible starting points

  • A visual element
  • A word or phrase you respond to
  • A sensory image other than sight
  • Is there something worth researching?
  • A personal connection

One or several of these notes could be the foundation for a poem. While most people in the audience kept the cards I gave out, some handed their notes back to me.

They look like this:



By Sunday, I heard from poet Debbie Annen, who had been in the audience. Debbie is visiting Author Amok to tell us more about the postcard poem she wrote.

Welcome, Debbie!

I started writing poetry in elementary school and I’m just starting to write again after retirement. In addition to being a poet, I’m a musician and visual artist.

I have not published since my high school literary magazine, way too many years ago. Having started writing again the past couple years, I’m looking to grow into who I will become as an adult poet.

Poetry is something different for every person. I think of my poetry of an abbreviated and or beautiful way of saying what I want to say, but not always.

I was an army brat, we moved every 3-5 years. I am drawn to Native Americans, their respect for the earth and environment.

I could be drawn by a caricaturist. The picture would be a of a heavy bottomed gypsy, wielding a large ukulele, mouth open and skirts, beads, earrings and hair flying. OR a mouse in the corner, shivering, hunched wishing to be invisible.

My collection of poems is pretty eclectic.

The postcard:

Photo: Beat the drum
While the pipes play slowly
Marching feet drag
On this sad sunny day

One looks into the lens
Go away, let us mourn 
This is not your song
This is ours alone
Thanks to the Kalodner-Martins for donating this card.
My first impression of the picture on the postcard was the red, then drum. The words “Bolivia Discover” are printed on the back. My entry point was sound. My impression was one of seriousness, a serious ceremony.

I began to wonder why this postcard, advertising Bolivia, did not have a feeling of joy or wonder.  Why would this solemn feeling picture be chosen to represent a country to tourists? I have no answers for this.

I saw the man looking straight at the camera. I felt the connection between the camera-person and that man.  That’s when the poem took real shape. 

Beat the drum
While the pipes play slowly
Marching feet drag
On this sad sunny day

One looks into the lens
Go away, let us mourn 
This is not your song
This is ours alone

Debbie Annen
Posted with permission of the author

Debbie, I am so pleased that the writing exercise provided a jumping off point for you. What a powerful poem.

The postcard I am sharing today is also a vintage tourist card.

2329−The City of Rocks

My entry point was #4, research. I learned three things about the City of Rocks in New Mexico. First, they include a formation called The Twin Sisters. Second, pioneers passed them, some on their way to the gold rush. Third, the area has some interesting flora, including the agave cactus/century plant, whose blossoms are notable.

Letter to a Pioneer, From Her Sister
   Who’s Made the Journey

You’ll see from a distance
a city – houses, chimneys,
streets. Close up it’s empty
as Pompeii. Blocks and
courtyards carved by nothing
but the wind. There’s cacti
will remind you of gentle things –
Cow’s Tongue, Bunny Ear.
Look for two spires
raising themselves up high.
They’re called Twin Sisters --
like us, only taller, big as the sky,
side by side and never moving.
When I passed those two
on the trail to California,
the Century Cactus were filled
with yellow blossoms. It was
a lucky thing, I tell you.
Plenty who pass this way
see no gold at all.

Laura Shovan

Here is a video, where you can see why the Century Plant is so remarkable.


Have a great Poetry Friday! I no longer live in the Garden State, but I’ll always be a Jersey Girl and so is today’s host, Tara at A Teaching Life.


Postcard information for "The City of Rocks":

"Between Silver City and Deming, New Mexico, there erupts from the earth around it one of the stranger of
rock formations. A few million years ago, these rocks were once buried deep in the ground. As erosion set in, 
these rugged rocks remained resistant to the ravages of time and the elements. So today, for the little time it takes, one can view with awe, amazement, and pleasure the workings of nature."

Distributed by Beach Importers & Traders, Inc., El Paso, Texas. Natural Color Post Card Made in the U. S. A. by E. C. Kropp Co., Milw., Wis.--ADY

19 comments:

Tara @ A Teaching Life said...

"Plenty who pass this way
see no gold at all."

So much gold to see and enjoy in this post card poem adventure of yours! And thanks for sharing the video about the agave plant - so that's what it looks like! Very cool.

Fats Suela from Gathering Books said...

Tara highlighted the very same lines that struck me from the poem. I also like the last two lines from Debbie's poem,

"This is not your song
This is ours alone."

One of these days I'd like to try this exercise. Thanks for sharing, Laura!! =)

Diane Mayr said...

These lines are my favorite: There’s cacti
will remind you of gentle things –
Cow’s Tongue, Bunny Ear.
One of these days I'd like to visit the desert and see cacti in its natural state, not in 3" pots!

Author Amok said...

Hi, Tara. I've never seen an agave plant in person, but that long stalk with the blossoms is impressive.

Hi, Fats. I agree. The last two lines of Debbie's poem take a powerful turn. The words are deceptively simple, but address some of the social problems of tourism.

Tabatha said...

Taking a really close look at a picture/situation/scene is such a good idea. Thanks for introducing us to Debbie -- she does a great job. Love the ending of your poem!

Robyn Hood Black said...

So many layers to love here today, Laura! First, thanks for sharing a way to present this postcard exercise. I plan to steal it. (And will credit you, of course.)

Many thanks to Debbie for sharing her work. Yes, simple words but powerful, like her "sad, sunny day." (Aside: my son, a high school denior, left the house with his ukulele this a.m. He sometimes takes his guitar, just to play. But, "today is Friday, so it needs to be happy music."

I love your poem, too - esp. those last lines. The description reminded me of Tara's Emerson offering today; would be fun to present both poems together with their different landscapes.

Liz Steinglass said...

Thanks for sharing the exercise, Debbie's poem, and your own. The last four lines are chilling. I've started collecting postcards--art, so far--but I'm keeping my eyes out for antique postcards also.

Joyce Ray said...

What a wonderful way to connect on a deeper level with a landscape or a culture. Both poems in a way seem to be about distance - the gulf that separates cultures and a long journey where one has gone ahead of another. I'll be working with kids and poetry in a couple of weeks. I plan to mine your blog!

Bridget Magee said...

Wow, both these poems are powerful. In Debbie's poem/postcard, I, too, was struck by the musicians connection with the photographer. Haunting.
I your poem, Laura, I love the comparison to the sister's relationship, "side by side, never moving".
We have agave all over our yard here in Tucson - impressive plants, but with very sharp pointy leaves.
Thanks for sharing today! =)

Author Amok said...

Tabatha -- I was impressed with Debbie's poem. So much restrained emotion in a few lines.

Robyn, please use the exercise! Let me know what happens when you do.

jama said...

It's so interesting to see what each week's postcard(s) will bring! Like your exercise and seeing Debbie's poem that resulted from it. I'm still thinking about the bunny ear from your poem . . . :)

Author Amok said...

Diane -- I have never been to the U.S. deserts (thought I have been to Masada and Egypt). I feel the same way. I would love to see these plants and rock formations with my own eyes. I imagine a postcard and a youtube video does not do them justice.

Diane Mayr said...

I was so intrigued by the desert, I once wrote a picture book about it. I never had the guts to submit it, though, since I knew I'd be exposed as an imposter!

Matt Forrest Esenwine said...

I, too, love those last two lines - they are such a perfect conclusion! Love this.

Linda at teacherdance said...

Such beautiful sentiments in both poems, Laura. I love the video too, have been all over New Mexico, both with family & with my students. It, & Arizona, are beautiful states, including sw Colorado too. The desert is an endlessly interesting habitat. I love the message in your poem, of a sister homesick for her sister, whom she might never see again. Pioneers were certainly brave, sometimes crazy perhaps, souls. Thanks too for your postcard lesson. I hope it's okay to share with my colleagues.

Mary Lee said...

Okay. I've seen enough of these postcard poems that I'm starting to get inspired to use some of my Great Aunt Edna's postcards that are stored down in some box in the basement to write some of my own. Maybe that will be my March challenge...or my April focus for daily poems...hmm...

readingtothecore said...

I love everything about this post: the poems, the exercise, and the explanation of your process. I once bought a magnet at a museum of a wood carving called "Head of a Bovine Goddess," thinking that I would write a poem about it. I haven't yet, but now am inspired. And I'll definitely be using this with my students. Thank you for sharing!

Author Amok said...

Mary Lee -- I hope you will go for it! There are so many directions each postcard poem might take. They have really stretched my writing.

"Readingtothecore" -- that's what I like to hear! Please let me know how the writing exercise goes with your students. It's short, but effective.

Katya said...

I know that bookstore! When my brother was a student in Annapolis, I picked up Faber's book on spiders there.

Thanks for sharing your adventure and bringing back some wonderful memories.