Zach Charles 2023 Postcard

Zach Charles: Lessons from Last Year, Intentions for 2023

June 24, 2023
by Splabman
From Zach Charles:

I would like to take this space to do two things. One: reflect on lessons from last year’s fest. Two: set some intentions for myself for this year’s fest.

My first thought upon casting myself back to last year’s fest is of community building. I love writing letters, and with some of my friends I do it year round. One of the effects of this fest, by joining not just people who love poetry but love letters/postcards, is the potential for pen pals. Don’t let those opportunities go to waste!

Making all my postcards last fest was a difficult task, but well worth it for me. Something about the creation of the cards deepened that element of the fest. I think the fest is really about two things: what are the most important ways we can create things (thing 1) for others in our community (thing 2). I had the opportunity to hear some representatives from the Muckleshoot Tribe speak to my school in the past year, and one of the things they said really struck me – they have a tradition that the first thing someone makes should be given as a gift. That is exactly what this fest is about. For me, the exertion of creating the card to be given away is an effort of love for the community. What an important thing to practice.

I look forward to upping the challenge of making all my postcards this year by having the making of them included in the daily practice, as opposed to making them all in preparation for the fest. I am not sure this will be the way I go about it in future fests, but my idea is to make a painting inspired by the tide at the same time every day (I live near the Puget Sound). Together, the paintings should form a sort of tidal chart over the course of a month.

Finally, ceramics come to mind. As I shared on the PPF Zoom Open House, I once read about an experiment done with ceramics students. You can read more about it, and the book it came from, here, but the gist is this. Half a ceramics class was given the instruction to make One Hundred bowls of any quality. The more shitty bowls the better. The other half of the class was told to make just one bowl, but of the highest quality possible. In the end, guess who made the higher quality bowls? The first half of the class, who made a hundred bowls. The lesson is what any talented person will tell you: if you want to be good at something, do it a lot. Thirty-one poems in fifty-six days is surely a lot, even if they are shorter poems. The other side of that coin, though, is that to make enough bowls to eventually make good ones, the ceramist needs to get out of the way of their hands. The poet needs to get out of the way of their words. So, a spiritual component also works its way in, as you go through this intense practice. This serves a dual purpose. The connections forged through the sharing of the cards gains spiritual depth as well as your own practice of writing.

My intentions for the year, then, seem to be clear:

  • make a pen pal
  • witness the tide, get into the creation
  • write poems! (forget the words good or bad)
  • get out of the way of the words

You can also read on my blog, here, or see my past postcards, there.


  1. Linda Trott Dickman

    Good intentions. Last year’s postcards were indeed creative. Only one or two arrived damaged, as the materials were not up to being shuffled through the mail. While you have challenged yourself to make your own postcards, my challenge is to find them in thrift stores and give them new journeys.
    My other challenge is to spread kindness through poetry.

    I almost did not sign up this year. I am glad I changed my mind.

  2. Alan Kahn

    I love the idea of making Pen Pals and building community out of the Fest! Occasionally I’ve gotten (and sent) follow-ups/reactions to postcard-poems, which feel validating that the work isn’t just going into the void. However, I’d love to join your intention – and besides making a lot of shitty pots – maybe make one excellent poem and one potential friend.

  3. Emily Bernhardt

    Oh goodness – is this the second time in ten days someone has recounted the bowls lesson to me – and I shared it in conversation as well… Love this teaching. Reminds me of the advice on how to find a good surgeon. Thanks for your words about how to cultivate a great fest. As a new fester (20 postcards complete) – I’m going the route of having all my handmade cards prepared before I start writing. The cards I’m making I call ‘dad doodles’ after some long ago sketches my brother found in our family home that were the creative attempt of my dad the businessman (and inventor). In summary – making the cards has been a gift of memory and joy to myself.

  4. Penelope Moffet

    I love that concept, of making a painting inspired by the tides at the same time each day, for your cards. I’m not that organized, and once again my cards will be a mixture of commercial cards with original poems on the back and my own drawings with my poems on the back. But I do love that concept, of painting the same thing each day but differently. That will make a beautiful record of a place to which you have a strong connection.

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