Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Postal Service releases stamps featuring 20th century poets

The U.S. Postal Service Headquarter announced today that it is featuring 10 "Twentieth Century Poets" on Forever stamps in 2012. (Finally, some cool literary stamps to replaced the long-used Liberty Bell Forever stamps ... seems like they've been in use forever!)

Said Mark Saunders, spokesman for the Postal Service, "With the issuance of Twentieth-Century Poets, we're honoring ten of our nation's most admired poets: Elizabeth Bishop, Joseph Brodsky, Gwendolyn Brooks, E. E. Cummings, Robert Hayden, Denise Levertov, Sylvia Plath, Theodore Roethke, Wallace Stevens, and William Carlos Williams. The many awards won by this illustrious group include numerous Pulitzer Prizes, National Book Awards, and honorary degrees."

They come in sheets of 20, as you can see from the above image released by the USPS. Each stamp features a photo of one of the 10 poets, with text on the back of the stamp pane of an excerpt from a poem by each poet. The art director was Derry Noyes of Washington, DC.

Forever® stamps are always equal in value to the current First-Class Mail one-ounce rate.

The collection includes a few of my all-time favorite poets, e.e. cummings, Wallace Stevens (with an excerpt from the excellent "The Snow Man"), Sylvia Plath and Theodore Roethke (with a fave quote from "The Waking.") Here's some background on each of the poets as well as the text that will run on the back of the stamp panes from the USPS:

Elizabeth Bishop (19111979) polished her poems to gleaming perfection, displaying the precise observation, intellectual strength, and understated humor that continue to win readers. Her poems walk the line between the marvelous and the ordinary and other contradictions.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
excerpt from “One Art”

Joseph Brodsky (1940 –1996) was an exile from the Soviet Union who became the first foreign-born poet to be appointed Poet Laureate of the United States. Although he embraced the country he came to call home, many of his poems resonate with loneliness and loss.

My dear Telemachus,
The Trojan War
is over now; I don’t recall who won it.
The Greeks, no doubt, for only they would leave
so many dead so far from their own homeland.
excerpt from “Odysseus to Telemachus”

Gwendolyn Brooks (1917–2000), another former U.S. Poet Laureate, is best remembered for distinctive, lyrical portraits of urban life. A master of traditional poetic forms, she also experimented with free verse, jazz and blues poetry, and colloquial language.

Build now your Church, my brothers, sisters. Build
never with brick nor Corten nor with granite.
Build with lithe love. With love like lion-eyes.
With love like morningrise.
excerpt from "The Sermon on the Warpland"
E. E. Cummings (1894–1962) expertly manipulated the rules of grammar, punctuation, rhyme, and meter to create poems that resembled modernist paintings. His works transformed notions of what a poem can do and delighted readers of all ages.

E. E. CUMMINGS 1894–1962
in Just-
spring when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman
whistles far and wee
excerpt from “in Just-”

The poems of Robert Hayden (1913-1980) reflect his brilliant craftsmanship, his historical conscience, and his gift for storytelling. Many of his works render aspects of the black American experience with unforgettable vividness; others are more personal. 

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
excerpt from “Those Winter Sundays”

Denise Levertov (1923 –1997) hoped her poetry would inspire change. Weaving together public and private, active and contemplative, she perfected an organic form of poetry that explored the political and social world through the intimate experiences and perceptions of the individual.

I like to find
what’s not found
at once, but lies
within something of another nature,
in repose, distinct.
excerpt from “Pleasures”

Sylvia Plath (1932–1963) probed the conflict between self and outward appearance. Her complex body of work includes deftly imagined poems about marriage and motherhood, gender and power, death and resurrection, and the sweet, enjoyable moments of everyday life.

SYLVIA PLATH 1932–1963
You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.
excerpt from “Daddy”

Theodore Roethke (1908–1963) created intimate, introspective poems distinguished by lyricism and a sensual use of imagery. Best known for his poems about the natural world, he was profoundly influenced by the events of his childhood and mined his past for the themes and subjects of his writing.

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.
excerpt from “The Waking”

The work of Wallace Stevens (1879-1955) presents a luxurious banquet of language and meaning. Many of his poems — some highly comic, others somber and spare — explore the relationship between consciousness and reality. 

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;
excerpt from “The Snow Man”

William Carlos Williams (1883-1963) was a doctor who typed out his poems between seeing patients. His work showed readers the extraordinary in the commonplace — a broken bottle, a red wheelbarrow left out in the rain — in deliberately plain language.

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox
excerpt from “This Is Just To Say”

Art director and stamp designer Derry Noyes selected the photographs used in the stamp art. The photo of Elizabeth Bishop was taken in Key West, Fla., by Josef Breitenbach. The photo of Joseph Brodsky was taken in New York City by Nancy Crampton. The photo of Gwendolyn Brooks was taken by Jon Randolph.The photo of E. E. Cummings was taken in 1935 by Edward Weston. The photo of Robert Hayden was taken around 1975 by Timothy D. Franklin. The photos of Sylvia Plath and Denise Levertov were taken by Rollie McKenna. The photo of Theodore Roethke was taken in London, England. The photo of Wallace Stevens was taken by Sylvia Salmi. The photo of William Carlos Williams was taken in the 1940s.

No comments: