April 12, 2016

Monday, February 18, 2013

Poetry Postcard 28: Symbolic Stamps

Happy President’s Day! If you’ve been following the Poetry Postcard Project, you know that I share a birthday with President George Washington, 2/22. (More about that shared birthday on Friday.)


Postcard #28 was one of the original 17 cards I bought from an Ellicott City antique shop. (Postcard #30, posted for Valentine’s Day, is by the same company.)

Originally, I was drawn to this card by the bright colors and the 40s cartoon style. It’s a little goofy. However, when I pulled the card, what drew me into the poem was on the back of the card. It came pre-stamped, and that stamp (George Washington, BTW, President’s Day celebrants), was on the postcard upside down. That rang a bell.

From the time I was ten years old through part of middle school, I went to summer camp in New York’s Catskill mountains. Camp lasted for eight weeks. Getting and sending mail was a big deal -- our best and only way of staying in touch with friends and family. Cool stationery was a status symbol, and something to trade on a rainy day.

What I remembered from camp was this: placing a stamp upside down on a letter means “I love you.”

When and how did that originate? According to’s article on stamps, it began during the Victorian era.

Here's the code, borrowed from the article:

"Upside down: I love you.
Sideways, head right: Love and kisses.
Sideways, head left: I'll never leave you.
Diagonal to the right: Marry me?
Diagonal to the left: Yes, I'll marry you."

But the website said there is a different if the stamp has a flag. “If you see an upside down flag stamp on an envelope today, it may be an echo of the unpopular Viet Nam war, when protesters used the gimmick as a method of protest,” John Finch writes in the article.

My postcard poem for today is in the voice of a wartime sweetheart, writing to a soldier. The opening borrows lines from the front of the postcard.

1 Cent Stamp, Upside Down

Why don’t you write?
Long time no see!
Are you stateside
or overseas?
I heard that wives
use an old trick --
inverting stamps
with one damp lick.
A flag would mean,
if upside down,
I hate the war
because you’re gone.
My stamp is plain.
I’m not your wife,
but I love you
with all my life.

Laura Shovan

For another poem of protest, visit Postcard Poem #41, “Greetings from Fort McClellan” was featured at the current events poetry journal yesterday. I'll blog about the poem next week.

Curious about President's Day? has an article about the holiday's origins.


Tabatha said...

Happy Presidents' Day! I remember in the 1980s getting letters from a boy friend with the stamp upside down. :-) I wonder if kids today have heard that? I also wonder what happened so the person who originally bought that postcard and put the stamp on never sent it.

Linda B said...

I like that you meshed both meanings into your poem, Laura. I remember well my father getting so angry when he heard that some were posting with that upside down flag stamp during the Vietnam war time. I don't think I ever heard of the earlier messages about love. Fun to know.

Tara @ A Teaching Life said...

Thanks for all that stamp lore, Laura! That post card poem is another winner, too - especially those last three love and an ocean apart, right?!

Author Amok said...

Hi, Linda. Thank you for sharing that memory of your father. I was speaking with some poets about the war over the weekend. My parents lived in Thailand for a year in 1966 and never spoke of the war in Viet Nam while I was goring up.

Tara, thank you. I like being unsure, myself, whether the soldier returns the speakers' love.