Poet Wallace Stevens & The Power of Imagination

Poet Wallace Stevens was born on this day in 1879. An elegant and playful writer, Stevens—who had a long and very successful career in the insurance business—created poems that richly reward patient reading.

Some of his poems are highly comic, while others are somber and spare. Many of them explore the relationship between consciousness and reality. Take, for example, “The Snow Man,” an excerpt from which appears on the Twentieth-Century Poets stamp sheet. The poem begins:

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

In order to understand winter, we must shed our human perceptions and expectations and become like the snow man, for whom the winter world is not cold and desolate. It just is. Human consciousness, Wallace seems to be saying, shapes our reality; to find truth, we must transcend ourselves.

Of course, this is just an interpretation of the poet’s message. Artist Vivienne Flesher (who illustrated the ) chose to represent the poem not literally with the image of a snow man but with what a snow man might see: a single pine tree glowing in the cool winter light.

Isn’t it gorgeous?

This image appears on one of the cards in the , which includes 10 unique note cards and envelopes plus 10 stamps. Each of the cards features a painting by Flesher that, in one way or another, re-imagines the sentiments of the poem it illustrates, rendering the words of the poems both familiar and strange.

Stevens may have appreciated this. Poetry, he once said, is a “a way through reality.” In the words of one critic, “The imagination is the true hero of a Stevens poem.”

Celebrate American Letters With New O. Henry Stamp

Today we are very pleased to announce the release of the 28th stamp in the Literary Arts series. The stamp commemorates the 150th anniversary of the birth of O. Henry (1862–1910), one of America’s most popular writers of short fiction. His stories (nearly 300 of them!), such as “The Gift of the Magi” and “The Ransom of Red Chief,” are known for their humor, irony, and skillful unfolding of plot, often with a surprise twist at the end.

Drawing on O. Henry’s close association with New York City, art director Ethel Kessler designed the stamp using work by illustrator Cap Pannell. Pannell based his portrait of O. Henry on a photograph of the author as a young man, probably from the late 1880s. In the stamp’s background he depicted the elevated rail in New York.

This #6¾ envelope includes an affixed O. Henry (Forever®) stamp and an official First Day of Issue color postmark. Click image for order information.

The O. Henry stamp is being issued as a Forever® stamp in self-adhesive sheets of 20 stamps each. Forever stamps are always equal in value to the current First-Class Mail one-ounce rate.

At the time of issuance, the O. Henry stamp is being sold at a price of 45 cents each, or $9.00 per sheet of 20 stamps. The stamp is also available as a block of four ($1.60) or ten ($4.50) stamps.

Edgar Rice Burroughs: Curiosity on Mars

So what does a postage stamp have to do with the successful landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars? According to one of the planet’s biggest Mars geeks, this incredible scientific achievement might not have been possible without the inspiration of recent stamp honoree Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Digital Color Postmark Keepsake (click image to order)

In a far-ranging interview, the late Ray Bradbury, author of The Martian Chronicles (1950), cited Burroughs as the writer who encouraged scientists to chase their Martian dreams.

“Edgar Rice Burroughs never would have looked upon himself as a social mover and shaker with social obligations,” Bradbury mused. “But as it turns out—and I love to say it because it upsets everyone terribly—Burroughs is probably the most influential writer in the entire history of the world.”

Bradbury enjoyed teasing snobs who cringed at the influence of science fiction, but he was making a serious point. Although Edgar Rice Burroughs wasn’t a scientist, his romantic visions of other planets sparked the dreams of generations of space explorers.

“I’ve talked to more biochemists and more astronomers and technologists in various fields, who, when they were ten years old, fell in love with John Carter and Tarzan and decided to become something romantic,” Bradbury said. “Burroughs put us on the moon. All the technologists read Burroughs. I was once at Caltech with a whole bunch of scientists and they all admitted it. Two leading astronomers—one from Cornell, the other from Caltech—came out and said, Yeah, that’s why we became astronomers. We wanted to see Mars more closely.”

Caltech, which manages the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA, has already begun posting remarkable images from the surface of Mars, with many more to come. As we continue to “see Mars more closely,” remember what Burroughs bequeathed to us: a legacy of curiosity.

Tarzan™ Owned by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. and Used by Permission.

Edgar Rice Burroughs Stamp Swings Into Post Offices Today

“I have been writing for nineteen years and I have been successful probably because I have always realized that I knew nothing about writing, and have merely tried to tell an interesting story entertainingly.”

So wrote Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875–1950) in the June 1930 issue of Writer’s Digest. And entertain he did. By 1930, Burroughs had published more than 40 novels, 13 of them about his most iconic character—Tarzan. By the end of his life he had written more than 70 books, including historical fiction and several popular series of science fiction tales.

Today we issue a new Forever® stamp in honor of Burroughs, one of the most popular and prolific writers of the early 20th century. (Forever stamps are always equal in value to the current First-Class Mail one-ounce rate.) The artwork for the stamp features Tarzan, his most iconic character, clinging to a vine, with a profile of Burroughs in the background. The depiction of Tarzan is an interpretation of the character by artist Sterling Hundley. To create the portrait of Burroughs, Hundley used a photograph taken by the author’s son, Hulbert Burroughs. The 1934 photograph shows Burroughs reading a hardcover copy of Tarzan and the Lion Man, which was published the same year.

The first Tarzan story, “Tarzan of the Apes,” was published in the October 1912 issue of All-Story magazine and issued as a book in 1914. “I do not say the story is true, for I did not witness the happenings which it portrays,” writes Burroughs in the first chapter, “but the fact that in the telling of it to you I have taken fictitious names for the principal characters quite sufficiently evidences the sincerity of my own belief that it may be true.”

And with that, America was hooked. Tarzan grew into a phenomenon that has transcended the printed word.

First Day Cover (click image to order)

In the years that followed, Burroughs’s Tarzan stories were published in magazines, syndicated in newspapers, and republished in more than 24 books. In 1918, the silent film Tarzan of the Apes became the first of more than 50 Tarzan movies. Tarzan was the subject of a comic strip beginning in 1929, radio series in the 1930s and the 1950s, and several television series in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.

Burroughs also wrote prolifically beyond the Tarzan series. He published dozens of stories in pulp magazines such as Amazing Stories, Argosy All-Story, and Blue Book, resulting in eleven books about John Carter of Mars and six books in the Pellucidar series, which focused on a world at the center of the Earth—a world also visited by Tarzan in the 1930 book Tarzan at the Earth’s Core. He wrote novels about Apache warriors, samurai, prehistoric islands, and adventurers on the planet Venus, and, in an interesting departure, he also explored the modern world in The Girl From Hollywood, a 1922 novel about stardom, drug abuse, murder, and power.

The Edgar Rice Burroughs stamp was issued today at a ceremony in (where else?) Tarzana, California. Those who missed the celebration can still pick up a from the event.

Tarzan™ Owned by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. and Used by Permission.

Tarzan Creator A Constant Seeker

Stamps typically mark the anniversary of an honoree’s birth—but with the Edgar Rice Burroughs stamp, set to be issued Friday, August 17, in Tarzana, California, the U.S. Postal Service is doing something a bit different. This time, we’re celebrating the centennial of the start of the honoree’s writing career—an event to inspire anyone who dreams of escaping a dead-end job.

Born in 1875, Burroughs was a famously restless soul. After high school, he briefly taught geology before joining the Army, serving in the Arizona Territory with the U.S. Cavalry until being honorably discharged for health reasons. Afterwards, he ran a stationery store, dredged for gold in Idaho, worked as a railroad policeman, and sold books door-to-door. Craving adventure, he even sought—unsuccessfully—a commission in the Chinese army.

Ironically, Burroughs found adventure in one of the least swashbuckling jobs of his life. In 1912, while working as a manager at a pencil-sharpener company, he published his first story, “Under the Moons of Mars”—with the first Tarzan story springing from his typewriter later that year, and more than 70 books in the decades that followed. Young writers who fear that their chances of literary fame diminish with maturity can take heart in Burroughs’s example: One of the most prolific authors of the 20th century didn’t publish his work until he was 37 years old.

Far from an irrelevant prelude to a successful career, that endless stream of unsatisfying jobs appears to have honed Burroughs’s professionalism. As he told Writer’s Digest in 1930, “the profession of fiction writing should be carried on upon a high plane of business integrity and professional ethics, without any vain and silly illusions as to the importance of fiction outside of the sphere of entertainment.”

Burroughs frequently downplayed his own literary merit, but from the first word to the last, he felt a deep sense of professional obligation. “My first stories were the best stories that I could write, and every story that I have written since has been the very best story that I could write,” he insisted. “I have felt that it was a duty to those people who bought my books that I should give them the very best within me.”

The Edgar Rice Burroughs stamp, which is available for pre-order now, commemorates the author who invented Tarzan, but it also celebrates an ambitious American who continually reinvented himself until finding his true calling. The lesson of his life story may be that tangents have something to teach us, and that even an unfulfilling job can stir the imagination, filling our futures with stories untold.

Tarzan™ Owned by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. and Used by Permission.