Postcard Impersonality

Reading Mark Gonnerman’s book A Sense of the Whole: Reading Gary Snyder’s Mountains and Rivers Without End I came to Tim Dean’s essay on The Other Voice. In the essay he states that in his 40 year epic poem, since Snyder:

…harmonizes a vast range of disparate utterances into a collective voice, the poem’s voice should be understood as impersonal — that is, as something other than Snyder’s individual voice or the expression of his personal sentiments.

and that the impersonal voice:

…enables the work of art to engage ethical questions concerning nonhuman nature and our relations with it… only through a fully impersonal voice can art apprehend the otherness of nonhuman nature without transforming nature into something that merely serves human ends… thus by means of impersonal modes of communication we can develop relationships with nature that aren’t strictly human…

Dean says his notion is developed from Yeats, Joyce, Pound and Eliot and also quotes from the Octavio Paz essay “The Other Voice.” He writes that Snyder departed from “a long tradition of figuring the North American landscape and its native inhabitants in distinctly insidious ways…” and says that “becoming a U.S. subject entails disavowing the history of the landscape and its expropriation from the Indians: to be American involves a commitment to ignorance concerning one’s relationship to the land. It isn’t simply not knowing about the landscape, but of actively wishing not to know…”

Dean also perceptively points out that this is not “cultural appropriation”, not “speaking for others” (as the great White savior) but goes much deeper, and with integrity, unlike those who would poach other cultures for their own status or for money. This is where some (Snyder includes) get heat from those who can’t understand a gesture deeper than identity. They don’t get that Snyder’s stance is as deep and respectful of indigenous and world traditions as is possible. His ten+ years living in Japan and studying Zen should be a clue to his commitment to ancient wisdom traditions. Dean writes:

…it would be plausible to interpret this attempt to speak on others’ behalf as an illegitimate bid for power, an unwarranted form of self-aggrandizement on the poet or shaman’s part. Conversely, however, we could interpret speaking for the community as entailing a dramatic subordination to collective well being of the poet’s… individuality — a form of self-dispossession rather than self-aggrandizement…

Which leads me to postcards. Every August (& for me August has become a month of 56 days, composing and reading poetry postcards) I am steeped in the theory and practice of spontaneous composition. Of course this is my main method of composition, but it intensifies in August with the commitment to writing at least 31 such poems and in the effort to communicate the joy and depth of spontaneous composition. When I read Dean’s essay, I can’t help but think that this is what Projective Verse or Organic Poetry or The Practice of Outside achieves when done properly. Snyder is quite familiar with Projective Verse, as were all the Beat and San Francisco Renaissance poets of the mid 50s and 60s, so this is not a stretch to see the connection between these spontaneous methods and the notion of impersonal voice.

But postcards?!? Yes, the notion is to write spontaneously. This year in my note to participants when they get their list of names and addresses so they may begin their own postcard fest, I had the line: “Your independence from overactive editor’s mind is near!” Truth is, I see it as much deeper than that. Once liberated from lower aspects of self the writer can be connected to those larger energies Olson mentioned in his essay. He used the phrase “the Single Intelligence” and it has been surprising to see how this direct reference to divinity has been downplayed for 68 years since his landmark essay was published. How to make the very personal act of writing a postcard to someone become the larger act of  writing from a stance of the impersonal is quite a trick. I am not sure if I even accomplish that, but certainly it’s a goal. Good thing I have all of an elongated August to think about this.

From Gary Snyder’s book Mountains and Rivers Without End and poem “We Wash Our Bowls in This Water”:


Su Tung-p’o sat out one whole night  by a creek   on the slopes of
Mt. Lu. Next morning he showed this poem to his teacher:

The stream with its sounds    is a long broad tongue
The looming mountain     is a wide-awake body
Throughout the night     song after song
How can I     speak at dawn.

Old Master Chang-tsung approved him. Two centuries later
Dōgen said,

“Sounds of streams and shapes of mountains.
The sounds never stop and the shapes never cease.
Was it Su who woke
or was it the mountains and streams?
Billions of beings see the morning star
and all will become Buddhas!
If you who are valley streams and looming
can’t throw some light on the nature of ridges and rivers,

who can?

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Postcards in the Park

Matt Trease (Photo by Michael Dylan Welch)

Two editors of 56 Days of August and two contributors gathered yesterday at the annual Poets in the Park event in Redmond, Washington. Ina Roy-Faderman, Your Humble Narrator, Joanna Thomas and Matt Trease were the facilitators of an intimate workshop during which time we talked about the fest, how we approach it, how others have and we shared some postcard poems and tried two prompts. Well, fantastic. Our laughter could be heard to the main stage.

(Photo by Michael Dylan Welch)

Joanna had a great presentation, and when asked about posting it, she reminded me of the rule AGAINST publishing cards without the author’s permission, so you had to be there! The first page of her handout looked like this:

Matt Trease offered a look at his extensive system for the fest:

Ina and Joey provided prompts that generated some excellent work. Thanks to Michael Dylan Welch and the organizers for including our panel/workshop idea and for the photos. My gratitude to Ina, Joey and Matt for their postcard wizardry and love for this project.

Registration for APPF 12 is still open. See THIS.

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August Poetry Postcard Fest 2018 Official Call

The August Poetry Postcard Fest was initiated in 2007 by poets Paul Nelson and Lana Ayers. 2018 marks the twelfth year of the fest and this is your official call. #APPF12. It is the biggest annual fundraiser for SPLAB.

Directions to participate in the fest are linked here. 

Again this year poets will be organized in groups of 32 and the list will be released as each group gets the required amount of participants, or the registration period ends. The signup will end July 19 at 11:59pm PDT. There will be a $10 fee (+ service charge to participate this year which will go to fund SPLAB operations, including the May 2019 tribute to Sam Hamill, being planned for Anacortes, May 9-12.) 

The page at which to register is: is the main page for the fest. The signup period only lasts two weeks, so take note and plan accordingly.


1. Make sure you want to do this. It means writing at least 31 original poems onto cards and mailing them by August 31. There are no excuses short of (lord forbid) injuries, sickness or other unfortunate events, but if you sign up, please send 31 cards.

2. Look to see where your name is on your list. You will get a list emailed to you soon after your group hits 32 participants and NOT when you pay the registration fee. Make sure your info is correct and each address is complete. LET ME KNOW ASAP IF NOT. Each group will have 32 poets, so each list will be a closed loop and early signees will not be penalized by waiting for the last minute registrants to sign up. It pays to get in early. I’ll send the whole list to all participants when registration has closed.

3. When you see your name on the list you get for your group, send three original poems to those three people JUST BELOW your name. ie: If you are #10 on the list, you should send cards to: # 11 #12 & #13. Start when you get your list. If you want to send more than 3, that’s ok. If you are at the bottom of the list, start with the names at the very top. ie: #32 will send to #1, #2 & #3. Send postcards until you have sent at least 31 total, continuing down from your name and going to the bottom, then going to the top of the list. (Some people also pick out a few extra poets, friends, neighbors, and write 35 or 40! I will provide all the participant addresses, but not until the entire list is final.)

4. Once you start receiving poems, see if there is a thread, a tone, an image, a fragrance, something that can inspire you in the next poem you send. Please refer to the call and the handy links there for more help on the how of this. and other links that drop down from there. If you don’t get inspired from cards you receive, no biggie. Just write and mail.

If you have people from outside your country on the list YOU MUST SEND EXTRA POSTAGE. From the US, in 2018, see: Some people recognize that the stamp itself can add flair to the card. If you send oversized cards, you’ll need a regular letter stamp in the U.S. See also:

Also from the USPS, note:

“You may think that your mailpiece is a “postcard,” because it is a single sheet of paper. But to qualify for mailing at the First-Class Mail postcard price, it must be:

At least 3-1/2 inches high x 5 inches long x 0.007 inch thick
No more than 4-1/4 inches high x 6 inches long x 0.016 inches thick…”

6. If you are on Facebook, check out the Facebook Postcard Fest page. Many people get excited about the fest, but I would suggest writing your poems and then chatting about them on the Facebook page or other social media AFTER the fest. Let’s try to recreate a feeling of the time (gasp) BEFORE SOCIAL MEDIA. That page is moderated and posts will not be allowed if the spirit of the fest is violated.

7. DO NOT POST YOUR POEMS ONLINE UNTIL 30 DAYS AFTER THEY GET SENT and more if the card was sent overseas. Pity to see it online before it arrives in the box. Kinda defeats the purpose. Also, ASK PERMISSION to post other people’s poems. OK? The image is fair game, but make sure the poet who sent you the poem grants permission for you to publish in any way.

8. Just putting this list together is a task. If you can get a question about the fest answered by reading something here (and all the links above) please do. Leave a comment in the comment section.

9. Document your cards before sending them out. Scanning both sides is one way, if you have a home scanner. Then re-typing the poems and recreating the line breaks is the way I have done it. There are many examples on the blog. See: and and

10. Have fun. This fest is designed to get you to trust your gut in the act of composition. Learning about the traditions of spontaneity in North American poetry and other disciplines has been life-changing for me and if you participate with trust in the process, you’ll also experience some degree of liberation, a little high, or both. Goddess-speed.

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