“The little blonde ingot of feeling deeply”: an interview with Teen Sequins Guest Editor Aidan Forster

( On a lovely spring afternoon, on the occasion of Aidan becoming the first ever Teen Sequins guest editor, an interview was held via the magic of Google Docs, and the spill of conversation that such a medium allows. This is the edited version of a lengthy and lovely chat.) 

Sophie Klahr, Teen Sequins Co-Creator & Editor: Aidan! Thank you so much for agreeing to be the Guest Editor of Teen Sequins 2022! I’m terribly grateful to have a once-featured Teen Sequin taking the reins here. 

Aidan Forster, Teen Sequins 2022 Guest Editor : Thank you so much for inviting me! It’s truly an honor to return to Teen Sequins as a Guest Editor after being recognized as a high school writer to witness a new generation of shine!

SK: So, you are 21 (22?) now, and your poem “Cistern” was featured in Teen Sequins in 2016, when you were 15! I’m curious to know what your writing life was like then.

AF: Yes, 21 now! At 15, I studied creative writing at the Fine Arts Center, a half-day arts magnet school in Greenville, South Carolina, for two hours everyday. So much of what I still understand as the majesty and mysticism of writing emerged from my experiences at the Fine Arts Center, reading and writing under the guidance of poet and novelist Sarah Blackman, and it’s also where I developed my first understanding of a larger, “professional” literary world. So while I had many essential explorations into the powers of poetry as a magical tool with which to sculpt landscapes that could hold me in love and tenderness, I also turned outward, toward the world of contests, magazines, and submission managers… so it’s interesting now, thinking about how the extreme awe and reverence with which I approached poetry was always already tempered by an engagement with a market or a capitalizing audience. 

SK: Ah ! That’s truly wild to me. When I was in high school, perhaps there were internet journals (somewhere out there in the Land of Dial-Up), but I would have been hard-pressed to find some sort of coherent and consistent access to a poetry world that welcomed me as a teen–with the exception of the slam scene–had I been brave enough to crawl out from under my bed where I was basically writing poetry by flashlight. Only at the very, very end of high school was I ready to share my work with others, and even then, just barely. That’s part of why I’m so impressed every year with the bravery of those who submit to Teen Sequins!

There are so many different types of organizations and programs now for young writers, but sometimes it’s so scary to take that first step towards showing your writing to other people. What might you say to teenagers who have never done so before? 

AF: I’m so grateful for the support I received at a very young age as a person fiddling with the notion of building a writerly life around the little blonde ingot of feeling deeply and having no place to express those feelings but on the page. I teach high schoolers, students who consider themselves writers and have extensive literary pedigrees, and students who have never written a poem but find themselves fascinated by language and wordplay, and I tell all of them that there is no one way to be a writer, that you do not have to publish or perform or post your work to authenticate the constellation of feelings and circumstances that created your poems. 

There’s a danger (one to which I’ve succumbed!) in the competitive arboretum of the teen writing world to adjust your work preemptively to curry favor from this or that guest judge of this or that contest, and I want to encourage teenage writers interested in placing their work in these spaces to view publication and performance as fundamentally discrete processes from the fantastical and sometimes frightening biome of the draft. If you commit wholeheartedly to uncertainty, wonder, beauty, and strangeness in your work, that work will speak and sing for itself when and where it needs to.

SK: Amen, and beautifully put. I often give students this quote, from Lao-Tzu in the Tao Te Ching: “Do your work, then step back–the only path to peacefulness.” I used to have it written on a post-it note above my desk, along with another quote from Isak Dineson: “Write a little everyday, without hope and without despair.” I think what kills creativity so often is overthinking and expectation, and what you said about committing wholeheartedly to uncertainty in particular rings true for me. 

One of the main points I try to emphasize about Teen Sequins is that it’s not a competition! It’s a celebration— I really try to make that clear. In a landscape that so fraught with competitiveness, as you’ve been speaking of, I always hope for Teen Sequins to simply be a space where the resulting feeling of those who submit is not “Wow, I’ve won!” or “Crap, I’ve been rejected (and I’m terrible)” but somehow a neutral space of simply being proud to have offered work to the world. It seems hard for people to get into that mindset in 2022, but it truly is how I view Teen Sequins – not as a contest, but as a celebration — Robby Auld and I started the feature in 2015 in part as a way of celebrating the mentee-mentor relationship that had been kind of gifted to us out of the blue by the universe (incited by Robby’s then-14-year-old passion for writing). There is, however, the fact of being featured in Teen Sequins or not featured, and I do understand how being the latter could result in the feeling of loss. I hope it doesn’t though for too many. In your own writing life, how do you deal with “rejection” ? Has that changed for you over the years? 

AF: First – I love both of those quotes! Especially the one about writing each day, without hope and without despair. Poetry (and queerness, and queer poetry, for me) is about failure–the failure to arrive at the expected, having oxbowed into an altogether different but nonetheless lush place, but having made something beautiful from the failure. And rejection is an essential part of that process! I can’t even tell you how many little gray “Declined” boxes are clogging my Submittable… but, as silly as it sounds, sitting at the bottom of every form rejection, “no” is often “not right now.” In many situations, you’ll have another opportunity to submit, and that in and of itself offers reassurance. I’ve become very nonchalant about (most–not all!) rejections because I try so hard to maintain a solid divide between generation and publication.

In generative spaces, I allow myself to approach befuddlement and vulnerability and recklessness as necessary conditions for the poem’s emergence, to be open and honest with myself about what the poem wants and not what I think an editor will want of the poem. So on the other side of this operation, when I submit my work, I remind myself that I have shown up for my poems, and that an editor’s response to them doesn’t dictate their merit. 

After spending so many years in literary environments, it’s become easier to receive criticism and rejection. But there’s always a sting! And I don’t think that will ever change… but I also think that’s ok, to be stung into a different state, one that might change my focus for the better. 

SK: YES. Developing that habit, that muscle, of separating oneself and the actual poem from what any editor says about it is so essential. And one has to start somewhere. Acceptance to a journal often feels quite random; I’ve been submitting to Crazyhorse literally for ten years, and have never gotten a poem accepted. But the first time I sent something to The New Yorker, they took it. There’s very little rhyme or reason to acceptances, as far as I can tell. Again – it’s all a matter of doing your work, then stepping back, and being willing to continue loving the poem, and the process, no matter what anyone else says. If you had maybe a single sentence to whisper ( not creepily) in a writer’s ear who was planning to send their work to Teen Sequins, what would you say? 

AF: Yes, so random! Every writer has those strange tumbleweedish crossroads of submission luck. I submitted to DIAGRAM, the first magazine to which I ever sent work, for six years, receiving form rejections and the occasional encouraging note, before they finally accepted a poem about Britney Spears falling in love with a robot. And when I submitted my chapbook, Exit Pastoral, to YesYes Books, they selected it as a finalist, and I’d never submitted it anywhere else; I’d never even realized I could feasibly construct a chapbook from the Southern-fried musings and musettes over which I’d been laboring. 

To go back to what you said about celebration: that’s part of why I love Teen Sequins so much! And what I want to emphasize to writers interested in submitting to Teen Sequins: that writing is about pleasure! I read an interview with the actress Kim Cattrall in which she claimed this motto: “I don’t want to be in a situation where I’m not enjoying myself for more than an hour.” How silly, how seemingly simple, but I do believe there’s a poetics in this, something about leading yourself to the palatial glimmer of excitability in your own work, of not settling for less than enjoyment, less than revelation, less than a little more beauty next time–and this isn’t to say that your poems need to be happy, or to be about happiness. The pleasure of poetry is rigorous and, as poet Paul Tran emphasizes in this interview , often about humiliation, startling the self into a cowed state, but moving into and beyond that feeling towards discovery, and this movement towards discovery describes an arc of pleasure, excitement. So, to TLDR what’s become a very long whisper, I’d say: follow your pleasure

SK: I think that the universe wants us to be surprised. Another quote I used to have on a post-it: “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.” I couldn’t be more pleased to pass the Teen Sequins editorial torch to someone so open-hearted and passionate and curious. I’m so excited to see what poems you feature this year. Any final thoughts before we say farewell this afternoon? 

AF: Thank you so much! I’m so excited to read this year’s submissions! My last piece of advice might be: read more! But also, time spent with the world is time invested in poem-making.

SK: Yes, yes!; Again: amen.

~~~~~~

Submissions for the Teen Sequins 2022 feature open on Friday, April 1st. To read past features and and learn about submission guidelines, visit us here!

Welcome to TEEN SEQUINS 2021 !

An insect’s feast, an east wind, the motorcycle’s younger brother and a self-portrait in erasure and consent and time after death — this is just some of what you’ll find in the poems of our featured Teen Sequins writers of 2021. Follow along this week on our website as we reveal each day our featured poets for 2021: Emma Tian (age 14), Sophia Liu (age 15), Alexander S (Age 16), Stella Lei (age 17), and Suraj Singareddy (age 18). The feature starts TOMORROW, November 8th, and we couldn’t be more excited to share these poems with you.

Since 2015, we have set aside a week each year to celebrate the writing of teenagers, and the mission to choose just one poem to feature for each age category is nearly impossible — there is so much poetry deserving of praise. We celebrate here in our kick-off all those who have submitted with truly deserved honorable mention!

Honorable Mentions, Age 14: Shaliz Bazldjoo, Julia Dun Rappaport, Chloe Lee, Iago Macknik-Conde, Matthew Martins, Ryan Park, Avantika Singh, Emma Tenzler, Ziyi Yan

Honorable Mentions, Age 15: Samaira Bhalla, Marlo Cowan, Kiera Darling, Katherine Dyal, Sabrina Guo, Madhalasa Iyer, Daniel Kim, Anna Laine, Sophia Liu, Asanda Mdikeli, Abby Nelson, Jamie Nguyen, Michelle Park, Tara Prakash, Kashvi Ramani, Franny Shaloum, Katie Tian, Rachel Xu, Suchita Vanguri, Aileen Zhao, Selina Zheng

Honorable Mentions, Age 16: Alli Benthien, Faith Bet, Anna Feng, Arriyana Franklin, Isabella Fron, Amelia Harrington, Jay Jarboe, Andrew Kang, Gayatri Kapoor, Elane Kim, Shannon Kim, Anoushka Kumar, Sangeeta Krishen, Aebby Lee, Ella Lüking, Avery Mcguire, Isabella Merino, Francesca Mills, Aamina Mughal, Eric Pak, Amrutha Reddy, Vivian Rong, Lena Singh, Jazmine Thomas, Tara Tulshyan, Noel Ullom, Amy Wang, Andrew Wang, Ally Wong, Katherine Wei, Amanda Zhou, Kevin Zhu

Honorable Mentions, Age 17: Miriam Alex, Julia Bertino, Daniel Boyko, E.J. Carnegie, Ana Carpenter, Helen Chen, Viviane Fontoura, Kevin Gu, Yong-Yu Huang, Andy Hunjan, Lauren Hyunseo Cho, Jasmine Kapadia, Erin Kim, Tyler Kruger, Mia Hoppel, William Kim, Zoe Lafontant, Amelhyne O’Regan-Farineau, Yahir Ortiz, Irene Park, Halle Preneta, Evy Shen, Jordan Teitelbaum, Courtney Trusty, Sakshi Umrotkar, Hanishree Vichare, Yixuan Wu,

Honorable Mentions, Age 18: Antonius Dalsgaard, Fallon Davidson, Cole Granahan,  Naya Dukkipati, Julie Larick, Divya Mehrish, Sylvia Roussis, Grace Song

Teen Sequins 2020, Day 5: Heather Laurel Jensen, age 18

 Elegy Apologizing in Hindsight
  

 I hear:  July will bring the second coming,
               monsoon season, and a stock market crash. 
               Each light on the water tower will blink
               and then strobe. A cougar will sleep 
               under my trampoline for weeks. Dogs 
               will break into every antique shop and
              devour fine china. From there the moon will roll 
              across a cliff and crush the nearest mobile home.
  
 Today they are dredging my best friend’s body from the lake.
 She is wrapped in pink tarp and identifiable
 by her ponytail. The edges of each day are ochre and 
 pulling up at the corners like linoleum. Occasionally 
 when I take a shower, there is vomit already 
 in the bathtub. I should not be here,
  
 not like this. Three weeks ago we were kneeling
 at the gulf of a psych ward, with my hands 
 pressing a Ziploc to her nose and mouth in lieu
 of a paper bag. In hindsight,
             
             I am not even 
             an effective attempt at
             a solution. A threat is
             still a threat when
             you pretend it’s benign.
             Sorrow is still sorrow
             with my headphones in. Her grief
             was still grief when I 
             avoided it. In the future,
             I hope to be unafraid
  
 of asking questions. Her parents will join
 a nunnery. The lake will drain
 through a metal slit in the earth. Her old
 things will appear on every subway 
 in the world. In hindsight, I will look for
 the cliff crumbs in the cuffs of her jeans. In
 hindsight, I will call the hospital and tell them 
 her name. 



Heather Laurel Jensen is a freshman at the University of Arizona. She served as National Student Poet of the Southwest in 2018 and is currently co-president of Creative Youth of Arizona, an organization that administers the Phoenix Youth Poet Laureate program and develops creative opportunities for young Arizonans. Her poetry, short stories, and photography have been published by the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers, diode poetry journal, and the Live Poets Society of New Jersey, among others.

Teen Sequins 2020, Day 4: Jaewon Chang, Age 17

 Silent Adieu
  
 Each day is a land silently waiting
 to be unmasked. This evening,
  
 I’ll find the revolver wrenched
 in my father's closet. The barrel
  
 seems to extend longer than
 the time it allows for farewells.
  
 Sometimes, I wonder if holes are made
 easier during the night. That a trigger
  
 soiled with daylight might be easier
 to unroll. I’m gripping the gun, but
  
 dawn is only as bright as we wish
 to call it. Perhaps, the frail body
  
 lying against the front porch isn’t
 as scary at night. Soon, I’ll bend down
  
 and recognize his face, like a bullet
 waiting before it begins to whisper. 

Jaewon Chang is a high school junior living in the Philippines. His works have been recognized by the Scholastics Art and Writing awards on a national level and he is a Foyle Young Poet. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Cleaver Magazine, Austin International Poetry Festival Youth Anthology, National Poetry Writing Month Anthology (2020), Ilanot Review, Bitter Oleander Press, and elsewhere. During his free time, Jaewon enjoys traveling the city on foot.

Teen Sequins 2020, Day 1: Sarah Fathima Mohammed, Age 14

Wounded Body 
  
When I am ten, my grandmother squeezes my flabby
 stomach with small, raisined hands. This is the closest 
  
 we have been. I am taught a woman should 
 keep her distance before marriage, save touch 
  
 like thirst and wait for a man’s mouth to drink 
 from. In the communal harvest shed behind 
  
 the village huts, my grandmother 
 wraps black fabric over my white kurti. 
  
 It billows at my waist like a breath. 
 Spreads over my ­­­chest as hands gasping 
  
 open, white petals. Burka stretching over
 my lips as another mouth. This is a body
  
 close enough to kiss. I have never felt anything 
 more human. I imagine that my grandmother birthed 
  
 this burka from her own stomach—fabric dousing her womb
 in darkness, coming out as flesh. Shaped like a fist. 
  
 In Tamil, wound and body share the same word. 
 Meaning that the body is only another way 
  
 to hurt. Meaning that I am a scab that is not capable
 of healing. Swollen thighs. Mouth purple 
  
 at the edges. I confess: I want this burka 
 to swallow me like a river. Drench me
  
 in salve until I’m sputtering. Bandage 
 this wound. If this burka is another body, 
  
 it is a better one. My grandmother whispers 
 that my body is too sacred to remove the burka. 
  
 I mistake the word sacred for scared. My body is not 
 the altar, only the meat that has been placed on it, sacrificed
  
 in all the wrong ways. I will drape this fabric
 over me like a corpse, hide inside it as a remedy. 
 ­­ 

Sarah Fathima Mohammed is a brown, Muslim-American writer from the San Francisco Bay Area. Her work appears or is forthcoming in DIALOGIST,  Diode, Apprentice Writer, and elsewhere. She has been recognized by the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, the Poetry Society of the UK, and the National Poetry Quarterly’s Editors’ Choice Prize, among others. When she is not writing, she serves as managing editor for The Aurora Review and genre editor for Polyphony Lit.  

TEEN SEQUINS 2020 starts TOMORROW!

Greetings readers! Starting tomorrow, during the course of this week, you will find a new poem here by a writer ages 14-18 that we find exemplary, provocative, astonishing, heart-shaking, sobering, consoling, and inspiring. But first, importantly, I offer a deep and grand and full thanks to all who submitted to TEEN SEQUINS 2020. Before our feature begins, we list below the names of those not chosen this year under the designation of Honorable Mention. What does it mean to receive an “Honorable Mention”? It means: We hear you, we see you, we can’t wait to see where you’ll go next.

Honorable mentions, age 14 : Sami Azfar, Sabrina Guo, Daniel Kim, Sophia Liu, and Julie Rhree.

Honorable Mentions, age 15: Mofi Awoluyi, Megan Balents, Paul “Brooks” Balkan, Esrael Bennett, Dani Brown, Amanda Cooper, Leah Este, Samantha Hsiung, Yong-Yu Huang, Kiara Korten, Garcy LoCicero, Emma Miao, Brooke Nind, Natalia Roman, Anita Rose, Katherine Wei, Olivia Yang, Jeffery Xu, and Kevin Zhu

Honorable Mentions, age 16: Miriam Alex, Ana Carpenter, Loralei Cook, Melody Choi, Ishika Dube, Lydia Engel, Aanika Eragam, Jack Goodman, Simone Graziano, David Han, Connie Huang, Yong-Yu Huang, Tina Huang, Hope Juarez, Jasmine Kapadia, Jessica Kim, Sophia Lee, Robin Lim, Laura Ma, Sadie Maw, Uma Menon, Gaia Rajan, Macie Richardson, Geneva Singleton, Pandora Schoen, Devanshee Srivastava, Elizabeth Shvarts, Matthew Tengtratool, Yvanna Vien Tica, and Alexander Zera

Honorable Mentions, age 17: Mariel Almazan, Kruti Abhyankar, Oluwatimileyin Akande, Senya Borovikov, Rachel Brooks, Annie Cao, Jolin Chan, Spencer Chang, Sung Cho, Yasmine Chokrane, Julia Do, Charlotte Edward, Idiris Egal, Jude Ehmka, Nathaniel Eisert, Priyanka Gupta, Lina Hergli, Charlotte Hughes, Jack Kerins, Esther Kim, Tyler King, Irma Kiss-Baráth, Divyasri Krishnan, Matan Kruskal, Anne Kwok, Sarah Lao, Julie Larick, Olivia Lee, Emily Liu, Qianhui Ma, Courtney McDermott, Divya Mehrish, M.M. Odom, Helena Muñoz, Kanchan Naik, Brandon Nesmith, Elizabeth Newsom, Willa Potter, Taylor Richter, Grace Song, Katie Turk, Aditi Raju, Alexa Theofandis, Elyse Thomas, Yeonwoo Son, Sarah Street, Esther Sun, Sam Rhee, Lauren von Aspen, Arden Yum, Amy Zhou, and Serrina Zou.

Honorable Mentions, Age 18: Lukas Bacho, Samuel Bennie, Stephanie Chang, Katie Garrett, Vera Hadzic, Heather Jensen, Tasneem Maher, Mariana Kovalik Silva, Lydia von Hof, Maggie Wang, Rachel Lin Wheeler, and Lauren Young.

Follow along with us this week for TEEN SEQUINS 2020 to discover great poems, and keep your eye out in the days and weeks and years to come for ALL of these poets we’ve named above. The future is theirs.

With great sincerity, 
Sophie Klahr 
     ~ Teen Sequins editor

Transmissions from a Teen Sequin: Daniel Blokh, feat. 2015, at age 14

I admit – I miss the days of Teen Sequins. I was in junior high at a magnet art school, but as much fun as I had writing short stories to share with my classmates, my true, secret passion was for poetry. At that age I was privately discovering the possibilities of unrhymed poetry for the first time, constantly both dazzled and bewildered by the strangeness of the work I ran into on The Poetry Foundation. The only way I knew how to deal with this feeling of fervent engagement was to write my own poems. I would read, be stricken with an idea, and run with it – not because I wanted recognition or publication or a book deal, but out of necessity. I didn’t know how else to deal with my excitement about words.

I submitted to Teen Sequins at my friend Katy Hargett’s suggestion, expecting no result. When I found out that my work would be featured, I honestly didn’t know quite what that meant. I Googled my judges and read their work, and then I read the work of my fellow winners, and then I read the other poems published in Gigantic Sequins. I found new poets to admire — not the famous and established PoetryFoundation.org authors, not the “top ten experimental poets” search results, not the 8th grade English class curriculum classics, but fresh voices like mine finding their own ideas and running wild with them. The recognition Gigantic Sequins exposed me to was delightfully validating, but the way it influenced me most was by exposing me to all the presses, zines, chapbooks, and poets I’m still exploring. 

When I say I miss Teen Sequins, I mean I miss that leap. I miss the realization that I’m not alone, like walking around a beautiful but overgrown path all alone and suddenly emerging from the brush to encounter a huge crowd of friendly travelers walking the same road, inviting me to join them. I miss that sudden understanding that my work was wanted, that poetry was wanted. When I realized that, I found my notebook, bought a new pen, and I wrote and wrote for years. 

 


 

  • Daniel Blokh is an 18-year-old American-Jewish writer with Russian immigrant parents, currently attending Yale University. He was one of the 5 National Student Poets for 2018, representing the Southeast region. He is the author of the memoir In Migration (BAM! Publishing 2016), the chapbook Grimmening (forthcoming from Diode Editions), and the chapbook Holding Myself Hostage In The Kitchen (Lit City Press 2017). His work has won 1st in the Princeton High School Poetry Competition and has appeared in The Kenyon Review, The Adroit Journal, Cosmonauts Avenue, Permafrost, Blueshift, Cleaver, Gigantic Sequins, and more. He’s bad at taking naps, which sucks, because he really needs a nap right now.

Submissions OPEN for TEEN SEQUINS 2020!

DRUMROLL PLEASE! Teen Sequins is back from hiatus and OPEN for submissions!

Since our initial feature in 2015, Teen Sequins has received over 500 poems submitted by teenagers across the globe, as far-reaching as India, Singapore, and New Zealand! Open to writers between ages 14 through 18, Teen Sequins will feature one poet per day in each age category during a week in September, with ALL submitting writers receiving honorable mention! Participation in Teen Sequins is a distinction that any teen could happily include in a college or summer program application as evidence of ambition, independence, and unique talent.

If you are a teenager between 14 – 18, we’re looking for your poetry!

And to those of you over 18, whether you’re student, a teacher, a parent, a pal, or all of the above, please share this submission call with the teens in your life!

Check out our previous features, see our FAQ for questions, and submit!