Postcards from the Edge

I’ve been a fan of Amanda Laughtland’s postcard poems for a while now, and recently I discovered that a handful of them are scattered around the internet in various places.

As a series of poems, Postcards to Box 464 deliver (pun intended?) exactly what they promise: short missives, quick images. Based on a set of inherited postcards, each brief, postcard-sized poem is titled with a mid-20th century date, just as it would appear above a letter.

Both deeply personal and endearingly banal, the postcards capitalize on their form by delighting the reader with a seductive sense of voyeurism—the kind of pleasure I’ve always assumed my local postmaster has enjoyed with many a postcard in his hand. As a tradition, the postcard is a curiously public/private entity: its message typically goes to a friend or loved one, sending private (and typically lyric) thoughts while printed on an exposed medium.

Laughtland’s poems capture this uncomfortable marriage exquisitely. In “May 6, 1957,” the speaker writes,

Everyone seems real friendly. The house

is old but convenient, close
to shopping. I can walk downtown
in ten minutes. I guess we’ll

stick with it for a while.

These comforting details—the house, the neighbors—are purposefully vague and hopeful, and the selling point of the location—being close to downtown—seems designed not only to convince the postcard’s recipient, but its writer as well. And the wrenching conclusion, “I guess we’ll / stick with it for a while,” exposes the true nature of the writer’s state of mind on May 6 in a way that could perhaps be easily overlooked. This is the real power of Laughtland’s postcard series: her understanding that even our most brief communications often betray our uncomfortable secrets, cloaked in cheerful details and satisfying travel highlights.

Elsewhere, in “October 23, 1958,” Laughtland’s speaker writes,

Just returned
from the Pearl Harbor tour. Interesting

and pretty and sad. How’s bowling?

The spacial restrictions of the postcard form require all writers of postcards a difficult and often unfortunate condensing of language. Here, memorializing the Pearl Harbor tragedy as “interesting,” “pretty,” and “sad” seems callously reductionist, incapable of capturing the true complexity of the event, while the sudden non-sequitor “How’s bowling?” reinforces the 180-degree turns we’re carelessly capable of making when space and time are limited.

Overall, Postcards to Box 464 is a fascinating project, well-written and compelling. You can connect to about 9 of the pieces through Laughtland’s website.

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