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What would happen if you excavated telegrams written in 1853 and sent them to poets working today, asking each for a poem using the telegram as title? The Traveler’s Vade Mecum is a unique collaboration, the first crowd-sourced poetry anthology consisting of new, unpublished poems from 67 poets all over the world, well-known to new voices.
This book project began with a tweet that linked me to the original The Traveler’s Vade Mecum; or Instantaneous Letter Writer by A. C. Baldwin. Available today to anyone with a computer, thanks to the miracle of Google Books, it is a compendium of 8,466 numbered sentences created for travelers. The idea was, a whole sentence could be communicated by merely telegraphing its number, thereby saving the traveler time and expense.
Using communication advances that Baldwin could only dream of, I approached poets and asked them to write a poem with a title consisting of a telegram I’d chosen for them. Some of those poets recommended others and I chose telegram titles for them, too.
Contributors include not only Bollingen Prize winner Frank Bidart, former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins and Best American Poetry arbiter David Lehman, but poets like Huang Fan whose work is known mainly abroad (in his case, China) as well as stars of a new generation of poets like Sandra Beasley, Denise Duhamel, Emily Fragos and Eva Hooker.
Here are lyric poems, language poems, prose poems, found poems, haikus, pantoums, ekphrases, epistolatory poems, acrostics, sonnets and mirror sonnets. This book isn’t only an anthology, it’s a compendium of poetics.
The original Traveler’s Vade Mecum provides a rare and fascinating glimpse into the habits and social aspects of 19th century America. It is my hope that this “sequel” offers equal measure of enlightenment on how the culture has evolved 159 years later. The book is just out from Red Hen Press.