Published Monthly

Book Review: The Other Side of the Post Card
reviewed by Michael Haislip

Hype: This anthology collects the best of this poetry by celebrated writers, schoolchildren with fresh eyes, homeless people and students, perceptive elders and working people from every ethnicity and class. A cross section of the city's voices offers a passionately experienced response to the city, the nation and the world.

Verdict: Like Spoon River Anthology, without all the dead people or the spooning

Until a few days ago, I did not know that San Francisco had a city-sanctioned Poet Laureate. Then I learned that New York City had one as well. Was this some sort of local poetic jingoism? Does every little town, hamlet and village have a Poet Laureate? Does Sheboygan have one?

Although I’m not certain about Sheboygan, San Francisco requires potential Laureates to devise a project they would complete if appointed to the post. Devorah Major pitched an idea to have residents submit poems about living in San Francisco. That idea morphed into The Other Side of the Post Card.

The danger of compiling poems about a major U.S. city is that, really, all cities have the same described-to-death elements—homeless winos, drugs, gangs, and old buildings. It’s similar to dance music, where every song has the same four-on-the-floor kick drum beat, but the variety comes in what is thrown on top of it.

Racism, abandoned children, sentimentality—all the typical land mines of populist poetry are here, but Post Card dances around them while only losing a couple of toes and maybe a finger. In fact, it’s only when the attention turns to the gangsta’s paradise side of the spectrum that the collection grinds to a painful halt. Eric Foster’s “Who Will Break the Chain” parades lines such as “since yo mom was on drugs/yo father left her.” Lovell Taylor’s “I Am Good, I Am Bad” reads like a Tupac Shakur song:

“I am that person who hides from da sun
like a vampire and comes out only at night
I am the gun who sees the good die young
I am the graveyard that’s home to many.”

Let’s not focus on the negative, though.

Gail Mitchell’s “Double Nickels,” a lament for a drunken Native American friend, delivers with lines such as “90 proof won’t bring back the warriors won’t change the/way some women bleed” and “when I say I’ll see you in the morning it is a prayer/for your survival.”

Joan Annsfire’s “The Performance,” another people-watching poem, brims with quote-worthy lines sandwiched between sympathetic descriptions of a homeless library patron: “Maybe it was that she loved Mary Oliver’s poetry/or that her shoes bore tiny reproductions/of Klimt paintings.”

Post Card works as a coherent whole. The poems are hit-and-miss, but the concept itself stands up to a thorough reading.


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