Poetry News

Charles Simic Eulogizes the Postcard

By Harriet Staff

In a tribute to a great but fading tradition, the New York Review of Books posted Charles Simic's musings on postcards. While Simic never explicitly states the connection between writing postcards and writing poetry, it's clear he recognizes literary potential in these little notes we send while on vacation.

Unlike letter writing, there never has been, and there never could be, an anthology of the best of postcard writing, because when people collect postcards, it’s usually for reasons other than their literary qualities. If there was such a book, I’m sure it would contain hundreds of anonymous masterpieces of this minimalist art, since unlike letters, cards require a verbal concision that can rise to high level of eloquence: brief and heart-breaking glimpses into someone’s existence, in addition to countless amusing and well-told anecdotes. Now and then one encounters in antique shops and used book stores boxes full of old postcards valued for their antiquity, their images and their stamps. The writing found on them most often tends to be in faded ink and hard to read. To anyone with plenty of time on their hands, I recommend reading a bunch of them. Postcards continued to be used by people of modest means to convey important family news long after telephones ceased to be a novelty. I once came across one that said:

Francis Brown died last night, funeral on Tuesday.

That was all there was. The image on the other side of the card was of a famous race horse from 1920s, so I immediately pictured Mr. Brown with a straw hat, a cane in his gloved hand and carnation in his lapel, stopping for a beer in a saloon before catching the streetcar to go to the track in Boston or San Francisco.

Read Simic's full piece here.

Originally Published: August 14th, 2012