An intriguing idea: take a collection of postcards and the messages written on them and publish with the message alongside the front of the postcard. The full name and address of the recipient is excluded so readers have to focus on the messages for clues. The reader is drawn in by questioning why the sender picked that particular card, why they chose to focus on those particular details – in a brief message there’s no space for small talk and pleasantries – and what the relationship might be between sender and recipient. One of the first is a seaside postcard with five images from the English costal town of Newquay, three of the images show small yachts in the harbour, one shows holiday-makers sitting on the quay wall and the last shows the beach with the town in the background, the message,
“One night, a cat bit Dan and Raz on the thigh. They were fined for biting the cat back. If anything, it is too peaceful here. One feels that there is something wrong. Perhaps there is.”
The reader has to speculate about how Dan and Raz were fined for “biting the cat back”, which seems at odds with the claim “it is too peaceful here”. Isn’t that the point of a beach holiday: peace? Readers feel the sense of disquiet. There’s also a sense of disquiet in a postcard of New York from Brooklyn Bridge taken late evening so the sky’s dark and buildings’ lights are on,
“Dear Barbara, a wonderful time so far. Weather marvellous along with the hospitality. Ar-rived 1:30 PM but took four hours to get to Orange! I have visited New York Public Library where they only have 3/4-inch discs! I am meeting John Taunton today, on what would have been my son’s birthday. I love you, Michaela.”
There’s a jumble of earnestness: ticking off travels, visits and discoveries. It’s not known whether Michaela and Barbara are friends or if its a mother/daughter relationship. The unnamed son suggests an untalked of tragedy. His mention loads the meeting with John Taunton, whoever he is, with some significance, perhaps a business meeting or interview, suggestive of a chance to move on.
Where names are used, they differ on each postcard which indicates different senders. The locations are mostly different – except Newquay appears twice – and the lack of dates give each a timelessness quality. The human need to make connections and keep in touch with friends and family doesn’t diminish. Only one references the pandemic. A postcard from Starehole Bay, Salcombe that shows an image of a peopleless bay, sea at high tide, green grassy slopes above rocks.
“A local card, obviously. We all remember the weather last May, at least we had sunshine to tan our way out of lockdown. No such luck this year. Sometimes this feels like a conversation with a hostage taker we can’t get out of or like being stuck in a hammock forever. Still, I remain optimistic.”
No names, but the sender makes the point of mentioning their optimism at the end, a note of reassurance that things can’t stay static forever. On another, the reassuring sign-off doesn’t seem so reassuring. The postcard is of an unamed location showing mountainous hills with a wide river between.
“Hope they crack the murder case soon, what a shock for your entire community. We can’t access the network on our phones here. The hotel sits on a cliff just 12 miles from the sea, and you know I’m not that great at cliff heights. It’s really hot here. I’ve had so much sun I look like a drifting boat with the bark peeling off and had to sit in the fishing village melting in my bra. I’m glad everything is alright with you.”
“Alright” doesn’t work for someone caught up in the shock and aftermath of a murder, even if not directly affected. It’s not just the phones that don’t connect, the writer seems to suggesting this place they’ve visited is not for them, raising questions about why they are on the trip and why they’re sticking it out.
There’s another unlucky trip described on the back of a postcard with a photo taken inside a living museum where ancient vehicles are parked on recreated cobbled streets. A tram in the background. Postcard shows a shop although the window is obscured by an old fire engine and a iron foundry. The postcard ends after a complaint about broken sandals,
“Can’t wait to get home for other reasons. Last night, a brick went through the window of our coach and we had to drive back with snow blowing in. At least, the black cat has followed us on the bus.”
The black cat is lucky here. It also seems odd that a tourist would wear sandals on a coach when it was snowing outside, suggesting a tendancy to exaggerate.
In contrast, the next writer’s not quite up to date with TikTok. Postcard shows beach with sunbathers and hills in the background.
“Jo had another episode with her boob tube in the pool and says she’s never going on the tick tock again, or whatever its called, rolling eyes emoji. My phone keeps rerouting me to Rio, it must be a sign. ah ah ah. I have a head full of crickets with the noise at night. Apparently, we’re going to need a visa next year if you want to go away.”
It’s unclear as to whether the “rolling eyes emoji” was an actual emoji or written as represented in the text. “Going to need a visa” could be a reference to Brexit. The words tumble with no filter as if the postcard writer needed to pin down each phrase before it flew away.
All but one of the postcards are in colour. There’s a view of a pub in a Tudor-style building, black breams on thick white paint dominate the upper half of the building, but the brick of the bottom half and tiled roof look more Victorian and the postcard is in black and white to give an impression of age. The pub is called the Dog and Partridge and there’s a link in the message,
“Ati has been knitting with dog’s hair. He ships a lot of mittens to America. V. popular on Etsy, apparently. Don’t know if I fancy a pair yet. Would you say that Ameri-cans have more glamorous lives than us, in general? I was sorry to hear that Helen McCrory died, I know how much you liked her. Take care, poppet.”
Actor Helen McCrory died in 2021, which pins this card to a date. Although her death seems to be an afterthought, added to show the postcard writer was thinking of the recipient. A thought undermined by the apparent fascination with the idea of knitting mittens from dog’s hair, presumably mementos of a beloved pet.
Mélisande Fitzsimons has created fleeting glimpses into the lives behind the writers and recipients of the postcards. There’s no overriding narrative arc so each postcard is a snapshot of a moment. Postcards are very much a broadcast: there is no interaction, the receiver is not required to respond but expected to read the message and appreciate they are being thought of. The earlier pieces don’t have a sense of a specific time but the later pieces date themselves by references to TikTok or actors. A thought-provoking collection that can be dipped into or read in succession.
“Life Here is Full of Tomorrows” is available from Leafe Press.
Emma Lee’s The Significance of a Dress is available from Arachne Press. The link also has a trailer featuring the title poems and samples of some of the poems from the collection. It is also available as an eBook.
February 17, 2022 at 10:54 am
Thank you so much for your very thorough and professional review.
You described the poems and postcards with impressive scrutiny, and insight. I found your detective work really enlightning, and am honoured that you chose to write about my book.
February 17, 2022 at 12:05 pm