The Poem as Postcard
By Robin BeckerWhat does a lyric poem have in common with a postcard? Brevity and compression, certainly, and urgency. From a specific site—physical as well as emotional—the writer desires contact with another and crafts a message suitable to the form. The poet’s use of descriptive detail to evoke a place may mirror the visual image on the postcard, a “wish-you-were-here” note of affection or longing implicit in the language.
Thirty-six of the 49 poems in Jennifer Rose’s 2006 collection Hometown for an Hour bear the word “postcard” in their titles, reinforcing the speaker’s identity as a traveler and a messenger. She writes from New England, the South, the Midwest, and the West; a visit to Croatia occasions meditations on ancestors; a visit to “the grave of Alfred Miller, / my great-grandfather, / son of the village innkeeper, // who died hiding, running / with partisans, his yellow star on.” A master of iambic speech rhythms, Rose brings a cadenced intimacy to her colloquial communiqués. Her sly wit and ear for satisfying rhymes and slant rhymes lend these poems a nimble brightness, even as they take on personal sorrow and historical tragedy.
Jennifer Rose is the author of a previous collection of poems, The Old Direction of Heaven. She has received awards and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and the Poetry Society of America. A city planner specializing in downtown revitalization, Rose selects apt particulars in urban and rural settings. From a sequence on Cape Cod, I select a poem set in Provincetown, that momentary “hometown” for many.
East End Postcard
I love the mosaic these shacks make
as they gerrymander the air for their views
of the harbor. Some tiptoe on stilts
right down to the water, precarious
as drag queens in Fifties stilettos.
An unleashed Labrador studies the jetties.
Laundry lines shiver with year-rounders’ skivvies.
At night, Route 6 wears a fabulous topaz
necklace on the décolleté bay, the marina,
a tiara of lights near where I stay.
What life might I live were I brave enough
to love the right woman? Hourly all of us fall
in the circle of P-town’s sole church bell—
the gulls, quaint cottages of lovers, and me.
Time has no tourists, unlike the sea,
or love, although unwillingly.