I was thrilled to receive a review copy of Postcard Poems by Jeanne Griggs. Poetry has been my genre of interest for the last few years, and my primary focus in terms of my own writing. The approach Griggs takes in her collection is both unique and accessible, and it gives readers a lot to love.
Initially upon receiving the book, I admit that my first reaction was, “Gah!” This is because the book is irregularly formatted, something I tend to avoid when purchasing because I’m so obsessive about the way books fit on my shelves. This means I’m probably missing out on a lot of excellent material, of course. Postcard Poems has reminded me to stop being so uptight about physical fit because I might be missing out on great content that fits absolutely. Here’s what I mean.
Griggs’ collection did two things for me immediately as a reader. First, it reminded me of how dearly I love epistles of any type. I love letter writing and postcards. It saddens me that no one does it anymore. I tried rather desperately throughout the pandemic to get people to “pen pal” with me, but with very little success. Postcard Poems reminded me why I love the practice so much and gave me the opportunity to feel like I was part of Griggs’ epistolary explorations. Each page is designed like a postcard addressed to various friends and family members. It was a delight to feel like I was getting to know not just the poems’ speaker, but also the recipients, especially those whose names appeared more frequently. I also know or have visited some of the locations involved, and this added to the nostalgia of the theme. But it’s not just the design approach that I enjoyed.
The poems themselves are also inviting. They are wholly accessible and contemporary but written by someone who is deeply observant. The poems create a sense of being-in-the-moment for her addressees. In this way they are both conversational and ekphrastic. The entire exercise seems like a reminder to put down your phone (and its camera) and to instead be in the moment; to see what is important about the place you’re in, or the people you’re with, or the things you’re feeling as you’re feeling them. And then tell someone, but only one someone. It’s this focus on both subject and audience that I found most exceptional in Griggs’ collection. It’s something to admire and emulate in real life, not just creative writing.
Three poems stood out to me for the way they express the heart of the collection and for their individual successes. These are “Note on a Postcard of Cypress Gardens,” “Note on a Postcard of the Kenyon Bookstore,” and “A Postcard of Magritte’s The Therapeutist.” All these poems succeed in achieving the purpose as I understood it (expressed above), but each does it in a way I found singularly successful.
In “Cypress Gardens,” the speaker laments the loss of wonder in childhood that gives way to the realities of danger as we age, the true circumstances of life we eventually can’t help but face, and the profound sadness we feel when we witness those we love transitioning in this way. In “Kenyon Bookstore,” the focus turns slightly from the observed to the observer. A similar disillusionment is felt, but it’s not the speaker watching her child’s perspective change; instead, the speaker, as grown adult and mother, must face another disturbing fact of life, that no one else cares as much as we thought, or hoped, they would. Lastly, in “The Therapeutist,” Griggs’ speaker takes this theme of loss and focuses it on memory and the body. It’s one of the most powerful confluences in the collection and comes across in the most striking imagery, as when the speaker writes, “I pull my blankets over the two / white ghosts in the birdcage / of my ribs and go forth / into the cold spring of another year” (40).
Many of the poems seem to strike melancholy notes, but there is in fact a deeply rooted hopefulness in each and throughout, which the final line above, concluding such a painful poem, demonstrates with remarkable clarity. Postcard Poems’ shining quality might indeed be just that; that it can carry such weight through a genre intended to be so light. The juxtaposition is a joy, even on the heaviest pages.
You can learn more about Postcard Poems and its author, Jeanne Griggs, here.
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I can’t wait to travel again. Until then, this book scratches an itch.
I absolutely loved Griggs’ writing here. I was touched by the hopefulness in her words and these interactions between herself, the poems, and the addressees and us, the readers. I read so much poetry, so much of it negative and dark, but these give me hope for a future with happiness and memories that we can turn to in darkness.
Indeed, she is deeply observant and inherently hopeful. Her knack for seeing things as they are makes for very relatable content. I loved the book!
Thanks for this review. I had already read the book and loved it, I certainly had impressions of my own. Your comments added a new dimension to the poems, making me want to re-read them with your review in mind.
First: a select number of asymetric books adds intrigue to any library shelf. Second: wonderful, digestible nuggets of transport to any number of unexpected places, feelings, moments. Third: perfect genre in this unfortunate age of limited attention span/distracted age of subliminal pandemic anxiety. Thank you!