What the Postcard Didn’t SayApril 30, 2009
A winner of the Wisconsin Library Association Award for Poetry.
What the Postcard Didn’t Say
Zelda Wilde Publishing
$12 + $2 shipping = $14
What the Postcard Didn’t Say, is a book of accessible, unsentimental, character-driven poetry, enjoyable as much for what’s unstated as what is.
Whether told in 1st or 3rd person, almost all of these poems incorporate fictional narrators, or persona—sometimes more than one to a poem—with a story to tell, secrets to hide, their own point-of-view. Memorable characters include a maid whose employer tempts her to steal in “Sting”; a grown man who lives with his mother and writes anonymous love letters to her bridge friends in “Back Route to Baraboo”; the child of a couple who had to get married in “Keepsake”; the checker held-up by an ex-boyfriend in “The Sound of Spite’s Name”; a mother desperately focused on her own clothing in “Bringing My Son to the Police Station to be Fingerprinted.”
If some pieces are based on facts or on experiences of the poet, Shy’s personal relation to that “reality” is refreshingly inconsequential to the poem. Instead of dwelling on her own biography, she explores the undercurrents of situations you might read about in the morning paper, or have heard, as a child, your parents discuss when they thought you weren’t listening, including infidelity, abandonment, sexual predators, messy divorces, abuse, social change, revenge, estranged families, suicide, murder, poverty—in short, the messy facts of life. Suggestive titles develop her stories quickly: “Emergency Surgery 3rd Grade, “The Pill Arrives in Wilmette,” “Why You Got Your Wallet Back,” “When Ann Landers Asks, 70% Say They Regret Having Kids,” or “Dancing with His Ex at His Wedding.” Shy likewise has an eye for the visually vivid, significant detail: a mysterious pearl; a candy-cane print bathrobe; an ant on a court-room bench, or, in “For Better and for Worse”: Divided into four sections that extend her title’s travel metaphor—“Accommodations,” “Luggage,” “Detours,” and “Souvenirs”—each part turns around the other meanings of these words: accommodations refers to marriage and its difficulties, for example, and luggage to secrets, while most of the last part’s souvenirs are memorable for some unpleasant reason. Each section begins with a numbered “What the Postcard Didn’t Say” that draws our attention to omission as a narrative choice and to the postcard form itself: a form we all use, as well as a form through which we put on other identities, moving among locations and vacations, altering our words, even our selves, depending on the receiver.
Although these strong but fragile poems focus on the sometimes unpleasant, sometimes tragic lives of breakable people, they are, nevertheless, often comic, occasionally surreal, and always considerate of their characters’ humanity. After you’ve read the book once, read it again, slowly; examine a few figures at a time, run your fingers along their edges and hollows, feel for the missing chip, appreciate their contours and contortions.
φ φ φ φ (4 roses out of five) -Wendy Vardaman