Dispatch #1: "I'm looking forward to failure"
Fancy meeting you here. How do you like my new look?
Spring has sprung. Everywhere I look, there’s proof of change. In the raucous cherry blossoms raunchily dangling my way, in the out-of-nowhere wind sweeping blooms from branches, & in the air emptying itself of chill. Spring has set an example: I too must catch up, I too must bloom.
I recently hit 2,000 subscribers over on Mailchimp - & so I’ve taken the caravan over to Substack. How exciting! So much is possible here! I’m stoked to see what kind of discussions & dance parties & messes & language puddles we get into together.
Now where was I? Oh yes: I too must catch up, I too must bloom. Now, does blooming always have to look a certain way – “springy”? Pink, frothy, sensual? I’m not sure. I tend to believe in surprise over everything else.
Perhaps my blooming will arrive unpredictably. Perhaps it will be violet, musky, spiraling. All I know is that it will move of its own accord - not necessarily from my human desires or plans. I think this underpins all of my creativity: I am at the bidding of dormant wisdoms & powers. It’s my job to be the best listener I can be, so I can flow with wisdom’s most underground rivers.
I always loved the phrase: to “take shape.” To take shape is to “start to develop a more clear or certain form; to become apparent or established” To crystallize, or gel. Another beloved definition, “to develop into something that can be recognized.” The clay is swirled from amorphousness into - voila! - a vase, clearly discernible & transmitting utility. What a miracle, what a process - this emergence. So much intention & action conspires to transform mud into a vessel.
As of late, I’ve been obsessing over Ghislaine Fremaux’s portraits. Often co-created with her husband, Lando Valdez, there’s such a laying bare, such intimacy. It startles me that she can allow herself - & their relationship - this amount of disclosure. It inspires me.
I knew Ghislaine way back in high school (!) when she dated a metalhead friend of mine. Listening to her talk about portraiture is a spiritual experience. “What a complicated, difficult phenomenon nudity is,” she says, articulating the beauty, burden, & ethics of documenting (let alone embodying or sharing) nakedness.
Approaching Fremaux’s work from the vantage of a poet, I can’t help but think of nudity as it exists in the realm of human language: we bare ourselves, we hide, we ache to be seen & known. Yet, the terrain of being seen & known is lined with exposure, vulnerability & contortion: I want you to see me, but oh no, not like that. We negotiate our nudities, often seeking to be partially hidden. We embellish, we add flourish & veil. It is our task as writers to construct our own safety, so that we might take heart & reveal. But what a task - the truth! What a human, undulatory challenge.
When asked about her future endeavors, Fremaux answers, “I’m looking forward to failures.” I love this proclamation & heartily endorse hanging it up where you can see it daily. What does it mean to look forward to failing? Is failure a blossom? What shape is failure? How do you hold it, & how might it transform, as all things do?
• Speaking of co-creators: I haven't stopped thinking about this co-written article by poets & partners Katie Farris & Ilya Kaminsky "contemplating the agony of waiting." It is as heartbreaking as it is heartopening.
• I had the immense privilege of judging The Poetry Society of America's Student Poetry Award. That means I read hundreds of anonymous submissions by 9th - 12th graders from all over the United States. In the end, I chose Bella Koschalk's poem Found a Mother & crafted a little write-up about its beauty: "Like all true love poems, acceptance makes the speaker capable of revisioning loss and attaining the unimaginable..."
• Very cool to see Odes to Lithium featured in Esquire alongside 24 "Must-Read Books By Queer Writers!"
• Preschool Poets, an animated series based on, you guessed it, preschooler's poems filled my heart. Take a break from adulting to sit with these wisewildwords.
• I'm on TikTok now! Check out my brain-squiggles & dumdumgiggles. It’s ridiculous & yes, I'm having a blast.
• Angel & I recently watched Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off which was surprisingly emotional & complex. Questions that arose for us: What am I unbudgingly passionate about? What do I continuously sacrifice for? In which part of my life am I thoroughly & consistently devotional?
• Write a goodbye letter to a beloved daily activity. To preparing coffee, for example. To walking your dog in the morning. Begin with "Dear..." "Dear coffee-making at 7 AM..." "Dear stroll with Odyssey..." etc. Dive into the details; into what you'll miss most. Notice all the little things that make this ritual so meaningful & worthwhile. Let this be an odelegy – an indistinguishable mixture of joy & loss. What might be the reason for your epic goodbye? Make it up. Wave with affection as it gets smaller & smaller. Feel what it is to love & lose & to acknowledge this particular gift.
April session has ended & we are already accepting applications for August. Our Visiting Artists are the indomitable Kemi Alabi, Raymond Antrobus & Angel Nafis. We’re beyond thrilled to have these luminaries board the ISL spaceship!
If you're looking for a vibrant, experimental & joy-centric community to test the boundaries of your creativity, look no further. 11 Scholarships are available for BIPOC writers! Please spread the word & tell a friend! Share this zine with someone who would benefit from being a part of our dazzling community.
It’s been a long time since a poem made me cry. The other day, I stumbled across “The Seeker” by Rainer Marie Rilke:
I am circling around God, around the ancient tower,
and I have been circling for a thousand years,
and I still don't know if I am a falcon, or a storm,
or a great song.
It was the “and I still don’t know” that got me choked up. There’s something about the fact of this intensely introspective poet admitting that in all his effort he still doesn’t know what has become of it, of him.
I am circling God. Am I a falcon? Am I a storm? Am I great song? There’s a part of me that wonders, Am I all three? Shape-shifting, transforming? One moment I feel my wingspan. Another moment I am feverish, wild as a hurricane. & in yet another moment, I am triumph itself.
Herein lies permission to not know. Permission for the flickering edge of the candle’s flame, which shifts & taunts & never stabilizes. It gives off light, just the same. & you, my friend, are also like this. Equal parts amorphousness & solidity. Mystery & flesh. “And I still don’t know” & gentle effort. Ain’t it humbling?
In closing, I task you with this: name each of your failures as if you are the Great Artist TM of our time. Each failure is a bloom. An emergence. A clarity. An obfuscation, a riddle, a door. Name each as if it were an important painting, deserving of an embossed plaque.
Here, practice by naming my scribbles below. Give them honorable titles; shellack them with gratitude & awe. Each little failure has its seeds & story. Its purpose, texture, life.
What do you see?
With ample maple syrup,