What To Read: Will Dowd is ruminating on the moon
This week, we interviewed Will Dowd, a writer and artist who writes The Lunar Dispatch, a monthly publication about the moon.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
What’s your Substack about in one sentence?
Launching monthly on the night of the full moon, The Lunar Dispatch shares the latest news – and some literary musings – about our nearest heavenly body.
What motivated you to start a newsletter that "orbits" the moon?
I’m attracted to subjects that are so ubiquitous in life and literature that they’ve become cliché and overlooked. The moon has been thoroughly wrung out by poets and songwriters over the years, so it’s more challenging – and therefore rewarding – to find something fresh to say about it.
I also have a weakness for the subjects that fill our everyday small talk. (My first book was about the weather!) There’s a good reason we use the weather and the moon to fill our awkward silences. They change constantly. It may be bound to precise Newtonian laws of motion, but the moon is mercurial. Like a great actor, it’s a master of metamorphosis and it never delivers the same performance twice, all while reliably hitting its mark every month.
Of course, I did worry initially that I might run out of content at some point, but I’ve come to agree with the Argentinian poet Jorge Luis Borges1, who believed that the very word “moon” was an inadequate label for our only natural satellite, which appears (when it’s not hiding backstage) in such different guises.
A lemon wedge floating on the dregs of a sunset.
A half-erased chalk mark on bright afternoon.
A pearl-earring lost among darkly swaying pines.
The moon comes in so many forms that it deserves a thousand names. How could we ever run out of things to say about it?
One of your poems is currently hurtling through space aboard the Kepler telescope. How did you approach writing a poem that could be read by another species?
I wracked my brain. What combination of English words could possibly convey an important human truth to a space-faring extraterrestrial?
Ultimately, I gave up and made the poem about my own writerly desire to be read. I hoped an advanced alien civilization would at least empathize with this compulsion to communicate across time and space. Every scrap of literature is composed in the same state of existential uncertainty. Will your poem be celebrated, anthologized, memorized by sulky schoolchildren centuries hence? Or will it die a quiet death, buried on your hard drive in some industrial landfill? You can never know…
The moon comes in so many forms it deserves a thousand names. How could we ever run out of things to say about it?
Your Substack posts read like a private letter written just for the reader. Why write in such a personal style?
When putting pen to paper – or pixel to screen – I never feel as though I’m mounting a podium to lecture or harangue a packed audience. I’m composing an intimate letter to a single reader, and not some faceless stranger, either. My reader is a long-lost pal, a trusted confidante, an anam cara or “soul friend” in the Celtic tradition.
No doubt this mode of writing has its roots in my childhood, a time when books were my most trusted companions. No matter when these books were published or how many library patrons’ hands they’d passed through, they always seemed like letters addressed specifically to me.
What have you rediscovered about the moon through writing about it with such devotion?
The most fascinating and frankly unsettling fact I’ve learned while writing The Lunar Dispatch is that the moon is 1/400th the size of the sun and 1/400th its distance from the Earth – a freak cosmic coincidence that makes the moon and the sun appear roughly the same size in our sky. This serendipity also leads to the spectacular phenomenon we know as a total solar eclipse.
I should warn you that this won’t always be the case. The moon is drifting away from us at a rate of four centimeters a year, which is an agonizingly slow parting, but one that ensures future inhabitants of Earth will only ever see partial eclipses. I feel lucky to be alive during the brief moment in the history of the cosmos when these heavenly bodies align so impeccably. Gather ye total solar eclipses while ye may!
I also feel lucky to be living at a time when the moon is still the moon, rather than a garishly lit billboard, overrun with nuclear reactors and lunar casinos, which will surely be the case in the next century. The moon you look up at tonight is the same moon that our ancestors gazed at for hundreds of thousands of years of human evolution. We are perhaps the final generation to enjoy this long-lived sight, and we should not take it for granted.
Who is another Substack writer you'd recommend?
I recommend The Sometimes Newsletter by the talented author-illustrator Ella Frances Sanders, whose poetic musings on the creative life and generous appreciation of fellow artists make her every newsletter worth reading.
Borges, Jorge Luis. “Verbiage for Poems,” Selected Non-Fictions, p. 21.