USPS honors 10 Top Poets on postage stamps

The US postal service honors 10 Twentieth-Century Poets by issuing a stamp of each poet in commemoration of their achievements in the literary world. The stamps, issued in 2012, feature an image of each poet in black and white with their surname below the image in a bright color. The full names of the 10 people featured, in stamp order, are Joseph Brodsky, Gwendolyn Brooks, William Carlos Williams, Robert Hayden, Sylvia Plath, Elizabeth Bishop, Wallace Stevens, Denise Levertov, E. E. Cummings and Theodore Roethke.

The 10 stamps are shown below and you will likely see one or two of them or your mail during 2012 but if you collect stamps then I suggest you make sure to buy the sheet featuring all 10 of them for your collection. Of the 10 great writers honored it is good to see some semblance of equality with 4 women featured on the stamps.

Poets forever remembered by US Postal services 2012

Joseph Brodsky and Gwendolyn Brooks postage stamps

Both Joseph and Gwendolyn became U.S. Poet Laureates, which is the pinnacle for any poet. Their backgrounds are completely different as Joseph was an exile from the Soviet Union who wrote about loneliness, and Gwendolyn was a Kansas woman who wrote about her urban lifestyle and experiences. Gwendolyn Brooks won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1950.

Joseph Brodsky won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1987. It is quite an achievement for both Poet Laureates and no little surprise that they are both commemorated on USPS stamps.

Sylvia Plath and Elizabeth Bishop postage stamps

The US Postal Authority features 2 more famous woman poets. Sylvia Plath was born in Massachusetts and is yet another winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, this time in 1982 (posthumously). Plath committed suicide when she was only 30 years old. Her work is complex and concerns the conflict of the inner mind of a troubled, but brilliant, scholar.

Elizabeth Bishop’s poems deal with acute observation, intellectualism with an underlying humor.  Yet again we have a U.S. Poet Laureate and Elizabeth also won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1956.

William Carlos Williams, Robert Hayden postage stamps

Dr. William Carlos Williams wrote in a plain understated style. William was somewhat overshadowed by T.S. Eliot but that is not to say that his work was not of the highest quality. He was he was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1963. Robert Hayden’s claim to join those elite people on a postage stamp was due to his expressiveness in his writing and storytelling.

He wrote about racism and political poems too, including work on the Vietnam War. He became the first African American holder of the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry (Library of Congress). 

Wallace Stevens and Denise Levertov postage stamps

The poet Wallace Stevens was an argumentative man and had run-ins with fellow poets Robert Frost and Ernest Hemingway. That withstanding, he was a brilliant poet who explored the relationship between consciousness and reality in his work. His use of the language was sublime, with always that hint of humor. Wallace won the National Book Award twice (1951 and 1955). Denise Levertov was born in England but married an American and moved to the US when she was 24.  

She actively supported the work of other feminist poets and she was against the Vietnam War, which influenced her poetry. Denise won numerous awards for poetry including the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America,  She worked as a professor at Stanford University.

E. E. Cummings and Theodore Roethke postage stamps

These are the final two famous faces to be featured. E. E. Cummings (Edward) wrote nearly 3000 poems during his lifetime. He used the rules of grammar, punctuation, rhyme, and meter in an exceptionally expert manner; yet some of his poems were written using lowercase letters. H wrote traditional romantic sonnets but with a modern slant. Cummings was highly thought of and was a guest professor at Harvard. Theodore Roethke wrote frequently of his childhood and things past.

His poems had great imagery and sensuality although Theodore suffered from severe depression and drank heavily. That notwithstanding he won  two National Book Awards and a host of other poetry honors. Theodore Roethke received the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1954.

US Postage stamps 2013 and beyond

Although these 10 featured US postage stamps were issued in 2012 and all of them are forever stamps, which mean that they are permanent stamps and can be used for first class mail now, or at any future time. This is not the first time that stamps from the US have featured poets but this stamp collection is quite a unique collection of the top poets of Twentieth Century.

New Forever Stamps

Poets on US Postage stamps prior to 2012

Others who have been commemorated previously on old stamps include the poets (with year of stamp issue in brackets) Walt Whitman (1940), Edgar Allen Poe (1949) Herman Melville (1984), T.S. Eliot (1986), Marianne Moore (1990), Dorothy Parker (1992), Stephen Vincent Benét (1998), Ogden Nash (2002),  James Baldwin (2004), Robert Penn Warren (2005), Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (2007), Richard Wright (2009) and Julia de Burgos (2010).

These were separately issued stamps over a period of many years but most of them were issued under the umbrella of the USPS’s Literary Arts Series. It should be noted that Longfellow was honored not only in 2007, but in 1940 as well. The 1940 Longfellow stamp cost just 1 cent whereas with the 2007 Longfellow version the stamps price had risen to 39 cents.

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Writers commemorated on US Postage stamps

Other famous writers, not necessarily poets, to have featured in this same Literary Arts Stamp Series of the USA are John Steinbeck (1979), Ernest Hemingway (1989), James Thurber (1994), Tennessee Williams (1995) Katherine Anne Porter (2006) and Mark Twain (2011). These stamps in this article are just a small selection of the literary giants that have been featured on US stamps.

A great many stamp issuing countries around the world honor their famous writers (for instance, Royal Mail, Great Britain, have just issued a Roald Dahl set of stamps) so it is possible for a philatelist to concentrate on just this single literary genre of stamps to build a massive stamp collection of the world’s most influential writers.

World Stamp Album