Ugly Stamps

While sending a postcard
To Italy – from Canada –
I came face to faces
With a quirky little dilemma

No 84 cents stamps –
Instead – I had two 42s
For international mail –
Two Queen Elizabeth IIs

Well – that just meant

Double the licking trouble –
Twice the scare –
And two times the ugliness
That both my eyes could bear!

Please! Canada Post!
Phase out those stamps for me!
Make stamps that look like art –
And not Stephen King graffiti!




Copyright by Minh Tan on listed dated of completion
and published in Perspectives, ISBN 0-9686250-0-2.



Notes to this poem…

In 1989, I was in grade 10 and intending to be a car designer, probably my first serious inkling at being something professionally. I respected German engineering, even though my favourite car was the Italian Lamborghini Countach and I did not care that much for Porsche. Still, when I found out I had the option to take German in high school, I thought I would give it a try. I did well at French, after all, although I knew German was anything but French.

In German class, we were given the option to get a pen pal so we could practice our German while our pen pal practiced English. For some reason, I ended up with a German pen pal, and then an Italian one I did not ask for but which I didn’t have the heart to ignore considering the pen pal hook-up was done through an international service for a small fee and I didn’t want her to have wasted her money. As it turned out, though, the German pen pal didn’t last whereas the Italian one lasted for over a decade. I am just realizing the symbolism of it now as my love for Italian cars still persist whereas I’ve never manage to take much of a real liking to German cars.

I don’t even remember my German pen pal’s name, although I probably have the few letters we exchanged archived somewhere amidst all my sentimental value mail. I rarely throw out mail except for some bought cards with little writing content in them. My Italian pen pal’s name was Beatrice Lomaglio, from Mantova, more popularly known in English as Mantua, and it was a great correspondence that eventually faded as things and priorities changed our lives changed. But it was out of this correspondence from which this poem came.

In the early 1990s, Beatrice and I were still writing regularly when I sent her a postcard in September 1992. I went looking for some interesting stamps, one of the things I tried to do during correspondence since I took pride in Canada Post printing great stamps compared to those of other nations. However, Canada Post also printed these annual stamps that had the picture of the aging queen smiling with eyes bulging.

The ugly stamp referenced.
The ugly stamp referenced.

Those, I were not particularly fond of and on the occasion of sending said postcard, they were all I had. A bit disappointed, disgusted and unhappy at the prospect, I went and wrote this poem to lighten up. Penned in a day because of loose verse format, it made me happy when you’ll see by poems I had going at the time like the sonnet, Beethoven and His Fifth Symphony, and others, took me weeks or months to do complete.

Many a year later, and now in August 2007 as I annotate this poem, I can tell you that I have turned to writing songs in part of my self-assessed strength in lyric writing from all the poems with some semblance of form which I had written over the years. Don’t judge at self-assessment on this poem, but this poem turned out to be the lyrics for the second song I have ever completed, done some years ago when I first ventured into songwriting. Unfortunately, two songs are all I have ever completed over the years but I am planning to get back into it in September with new insight into myself and suitability to the process.

Now, songwriting is a bit of a different beast to poetry writing for form and requirement to suit music able to be sung. I’m not going to write about how so or what transpired in converting this poem to song lyrics, but to give you a taste, and some foresight into what happened to this poem and what will happen to some others, here are the lyrics to the Ugly Stamps song, with verse changes, additions, chorus added, and so on. It sounds like a Stan Rogers song, if you ask me – very folky, can sing with a country twang and/or accent, or just folky. Finally, as a side note, it seems upon the day of this writing, Aug 18, 2007, the guitar tabs of both my songs have been stolen from my songbook! I didn’t remove them and there is an empty page holder there. This could be an interesting mystery, although I am not worried about copyright because I have proper copyrights on the songs and poems properly dated. But let’s see what will happen to this.


2 thoughts on “Ugly Stamps

Add yours

  1. Dear Minh,
    here I am. My English is not good as some years ago, but I found this poem on your blog and… I coudn’t resist writing!
    I remember of our correspondence with a great joy.


    1. Hi Beatrice, what a wonderful surprise! Don’t you love the Internet to connect and reconnect people? I’m so glad you found me again and glad you did not resist to writing. It’s also nice to know we share similar memories of our correspondence. I found you on Facebook but don’t know if you check it often so if you read this first, please check. I hope to hear from you again soon. 🙂


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