As a business model fails, forever is pragmatic

In the postal business, there’s a term of art (as it were): the forever stamp. Forever stamps are always equal in equal value to the current U.S. first-class mail 1-ounce rate. The term has been in use for some years, but hasn’t really been relevant until fairly recently. In eras when rates were stable — we all remember the days when the announcement of a rate increase was an event, causing a slight shock and even protest, something for which we anyway had to plan — a “forever stamp” was essentially superfluous. Now that rates increase often, almost unnoticed by a public in the process of abandoning a form of communication, one can almost not even recite the current first-class postage.  Conceptually, "forever" has become handy.

Because of the impending failure of a business model, forever is pragmatic.

Okay, nothing other than a shift in business here, right? But USPS has long prided itself on iconic canonicity, official taste-making, permanent cultural celebratory gestures. Commemorative stamps are still much debated and pre-tested on the cultural-capital market. A bad choice of person or iconic scene can cause controversy.

It’s apparently time for USPS to say which 5-by-4 grid/sheet of 20th-century poets is forever (two sets of just ten chosen poets). They could have opted to commit this significant act of public canonizing for stamps that would be less relevant, and eventually essentially useless, when rates changed. I would have advised that they go with a largely different set of choices (they didn’t ask — but whom, I wonder, did they ask?), but, short of that, I would have urged them not to make these "forever stamps." It’s as if, the twentieth century being over, discussions of the valuation of 20th-century poets are done too. Is contigency of value that difficult a concept — especially for people running an organization now dependent on it for its short-term survival?

Surely there are creative technologies associated with franking a letter that could be made to enable pluralities and shifts and dynamisms and multiple aesthetic and other -isms. is just a simple instance of alternatives that make the provision for change and valuation part of the process. That USPS can’t think its way out of what is at this point a fairly minor matter suggests where they and their premodern sense of value is headed. Anyway, if the mode is premodern, why not stick with emblems of premodern culture. (Well, even here, they largely have.)

So we have Brodsky, Brooks, Williams, Hayden, Plath, Bishop, Stevens, Levertov, Cummings, and Roethke, forever.