Friday, May 17, 2024

Red Letter Poem #207

 The Red Letters



In ancient Rome, feast days were indicated on the calendar by red letters.

To my mind, all poetry and art serves as a reminder that every day we wake together beneath the sun is a red-letter day.









Red Letter Poem #207






Along the Coast



Though the science is uncertain   

the molecules feel more chaotic here,

the acrid smell of empty vessels                        

heavy on everyone’s mind.


                                   Plastic swirls,      

bounces on waves—nothing can

contain it.  It follows the currents

that course toward the equator,

belt that threatens to burst.       


The chop of surf unsettles us

yet somehow slows our hearts,   

more certain now of—dare I say it?—

death. But that would be too obvious.


                                    And so,

in vinyl chairs unraveling,

their strands adrift in brackish air,

we sit in silence as doorless Jeeps

drive slowly along the graveled beach,

half the air let out of their tires.



                        ––Wyn Cooper



Perhaps you’ve heard of it: a newly-formed island adrift between Hawaii and California, with an estimated surface area of 1.6 million square kilometers.  That’s twice the size of Texas or three times the size of France.  It’s called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch––the largest accumulation of ocean plastic in the world.  But it’s only one of five such floating trash conglomerates bedeviling our seas––yet more proof (as if further proof were needed) of how our ecological blindness has allowed us to bring our planet to the brink of disaster.  More than a half-century has passed since we received the first image of our lovely blue-green home, diminutive in the vastness of space, as humans gazed back from the Lunar surface.  And it’s been nearly as long since the first Earth Day celebration was created––largely in response to this celestial event––hoping to generate a planetary commitment to safeguard our fragile environment.  Yet we remain as short-sighted as ever, allowing political deceit, corporate profits, and our commitment to own material ease to outweigh the dire warnings from the scientific community.  Oceans become polluted, air is fouled, drinking water tainted, and the man-made effects of global warming threaten destruction on an unimagined scale.


So how are we to process this?  And how might one individual poet respond?  In Wyn Cooper’s new poem, we find ourselves joining him on some unspecified shore, gazing at the once-unsullied ocean, seated on our (oh-so-ironic) plastic chairs.  We sense the resonance between personal trauma and that of the wider world.  How far away is this scene from the sort of Mad Max dystopia that sometimes troubles our sleep––where natural resources are so depleted, survival is a matter of every-man-or-woman-for-themselves?  The poet presents us with this ecological fever-dream, perhaps in hope of a shared moment of recognition; the poem is a dramatic vantage point from which to marvel at what’s befallen us.  I always relish the bracing imagery, dark humor, edgy syntax, with which Wyn shapes his poetic visions.  Midway into one of his texts, we’ll often feel ourselves suddenly on the psychic hot seat, the rising electrical jolt enough to startle our complacent minds.  Or, at least, that is the hope: that the quiet intensity of a poem might get under our skins in ways the news headlines clearly have not.


Wyn is the author of five books of poetry, the most recent being Mars Poetica (White Pine Press), as well as the novel Way Out West published by Concord Free Press.  His poems, stories, essays, and reviews have appeared in scores of publications such as The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Poetry, and AGNI.  But his lyricism has carried him into songwriting as well, with a pair of recordings featuring the voice of the novelist Madison Smartt Bell.  There’s no telling where his poems might travel: “Fun”, from his debut collection, was turned into the Grammy-winning song “All I Wanna Do” by Sheryl Crow.  A committed educator as well, Wyn has taught at Bennington and Marlboro Colleges, the University of Massachusetts/Amherst, the University of Utah, and the Frost Place.  It is a bittersweet pleasure to share his new work, wondering whether mere language is still capable of prying open the heart.  I’m sure you, too, are praying each one of us will realize that we’ve no choice but to shape our actions in order to become part of the solution––even as we pressure our leaders to finally make good on decades of empty promises.  Facing this Goliath of a challenge, even a mere poem can be a stone in our sling. May it come about before (as the poet suggests) the planet’s equatorial belt finally does burst, leaving us all naked, un-homed, and cursed by hindsight.




Red Letters 3.0


* If you would like to receive these poems every Friday in your own in-box – or would like to write in with comments or submissions – send correspondence to:



To learn more about the origins of the Red Letter Project, check out an essay I wrote for Arrowsmith Magazine:


and the Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene


For updates and announcements about Red Letter projects and poetry readings, please follow me on Twitter          


Tuesday, May 14, 2024

The Trapeze of your Flesh by Charles Rammelkamp


The Trapeze of your Flesh

Charles Rammelkamp

Blaze VOX Books

ISBN: 978-1-60964-465-9

174pp $20

By g emil reutter

Rammelkamp brings us on a journey into the history of burlesque and stripping from Boston to the west coast and Europe. It is a romp from the late 1800’s up until the 00’s. As much as the poems are energetic, frenzied one may say, there are many written with a sublime sadness. Through the tassels. g-strings, feathers and sex, these are performers whose lives are documented by Rammelkamp.

Abuse in many forms rears its ugly head in many of the poems concerning minors dancing in shows,
domestic violence, homicide, yet through it all there is no doubt Rammelkmap conducted extensive research in this collection that throughout maintains the energy of a carnival.

There are the characters, many who became household names even appearing in various television and movie productions and yet other arrested for indecent exposure. The adult entertainment industry no matter the name is a dangerous life and surely not easy. There is the mix of politicians throughout the collection: a mayor of Boston, governor of Louisiana and of course all of the entertainers claimed to have slept with JFK and Sinatra. There is even a sighting of Dick Nixon at one of the clubs. Ironic that the assassin of JFK was murdered by a burlesque club owner.

This collection of poems is not only a documentation of many of these forgotten performers but also of the venues across two continents, many in red light districts that have been demolished. Today’s gentlemen’s clubs, an oxymoron, pale when compared to the origin of the art of the tease. Who would have thought after three centuries of scandal, of abuse, of rip-roaring entertainment that once again two adult entertainers are at the center of a political payoff to influence an election?

These narrative poems record a history of the underbelly of the entertainment industry. They have always been here yet never honored with a well written documentation of all things burlesque. Just maybe, The Trapeze of your Flesh, will make it into the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas.

You can find the book here:

g emil reutter is a writer of poems, stories and occasional literary criticism. He can be found at:

Friday, May 10, 2024

Red Letter Poem #206

 The Red Letters



In ancient Rome, feast days were indicated on the calendar by red letters.

To my mind, all poetry and art serves as a reminder that every day we wake together beneath the sun is a red-letter day.









Red Letter Poem #206






Walking with My Son at Fresh Pond



Taking a path along the reservoir

he’s my guide. Follow in my tracks.

We go to look at the reflection in the pond,

the trees in a patch of woods that burned,

the lifeless limbs charred charcoal, the scene

all watery, wind-rippled, turned upside down,

and set against sky and clouds.


On the bank he leans forward as if he

truly fears he might be taken into that world.

If I stare, I can imagine it, too.

Yikes! I’m falling off a cliff.

I hold onto him, feel the pull he feels,

the strength of it.


In a stand of evergreen he makes a stick hut,

like the Jews who make a Sukkah for harvest.

I help him collect fallen limbs, lean them

against the trunks of sturdy hemlock.

Then, a village springs up, inhabited

by gnomes and nymphs.  They’re all around us!

I want to, love to, and need to

see things through his eyes.


We hunt and hide from monsters

who have powers that let them change

on a whim into huge creatures looming

over us, the landscape, energized.

Eventually reduced to tiny moles, They look

up to us, he says. My boy has the power

to dismiss them all, then allow the hillside

to suddenly become thick with wolves.


He carries a tree branch to ward them off.

Later it becomes a bridge to cross the water,

then a staff to help him climb the mountain,

the hill on the other side of the pond.

He holds his stick in the air whenever dogs appear,

to keep it from them, hoping they’ll know

it’s not a game of fetch he’s after, seeing them

run and jump. Today there were seven dogs:

Each one different, he noticed. 




                                        ––Mary Bonina




I know: whenever one is tempted to make sweeping pronouncements, you’re venturing on shaky ground.  And still, I feel confident with this declaration: most of us owe our survival––in body, mind, and spirit––in large part, to our mothers.  Let me quickly say––as a member of the male persuasion, as a dad and a granddad who was and is deeply involved in the developing lives of our family––this is no knock against fathers.  Parents, together, are the sun and moon in a child’s firmament, and the more loving and engaged the better.  This is simply an acknowledgement that a mother’s love is of a very different nature and intensity, seeming perhaps to merge with biological necessity.  Having once been its bodily home, the mother was the first to convey to this little being that the harsh external world would be survivable.  At times, this love even appears to extend beyond the bounds of physical and metaphysical laws.  Of course, I realize this is not true in every case, but I’d wager more often than not.  And as children, I believe we intuitively recognized this, relied upon the gravitational constancy of that caring.  Perhaps, over time, we bristled at how overwhelming was our motherly dependence, and so we declared the maternal wars in order to stake a claim to our own territory, earn a measure of autonomy.  But, as Heather Treseler reminds us in her poem “Purpura”: “The first empire is mother.”


So, as Mother’s Day swings around again, I wanted to share the second of two new ‘mother/son’ poems I have from Mary Bonina.  The first, “Fever” (published back in December, RLP#185) was a hymn to a mother’s reservoir of anxiety and caring, as she tried to help a child vanquish the monsters escaped from his feverish delirium.  Comfort is certainly one of the greatest gifts I remember receiving from my own mother.  Another, though, is perhaps one of the most impactful a mother can provide: her deep listening––and that’s at the core of today’s “Walking with my Son…”.   “Follow in my tracks” the boy commands and, dutifully (delightedly) Mary’s protagonist obeys, switching the parental dynamics of who usually blazes the trail and who tails behind.  It is quickly clear that the gift-giving is mutual, as the mother gets to reclaim something of her own childhood self, seeing the world through this imaginative boy’s eyes.  In that perspective, menace is always lurking––but also the unbridled delight in being an embodied creature, exploring the world.  I love how the real and imagined share a common space and have equally-powerful effects on our fertile minds.  After all, those charred trees really did burn; destruction and loss are not just dark figures in fairy tales.  But we also get to indulge in those fanciful terrors which we have the power to control: “Yikes! I’m falling off a cliff.”  But they do not topple––they play, and danger is a thrilling reminder that we are alive.  When those marauding wolves appear (in the guise of dogs, romping on the trail), the boy’s wand––and a mother’s watchfulness––has the power to keep us safe.  More than just safe: we are allowed to be fully present to this lived moment; and we can relish the loving companionship we’re sometimes privileged to enjoy.


Mary is a poet and prose writer; she’s published two collections––both from Červená Barva Press––and a memoir, My Father’s Eyes.  Today’s poem will appear in a forthcoming book, The Charm.  Her poem “Drift”, a winner of UrbanArts "Boston Contemporary Authors" prize, was engraved on a granite monolith outside Boston’s Green Street MBTA Station.  She’s been honored with a number of fellowships including seven from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts where she has been a fellow since 2002.  Mary’s taken part in collaborative art experiments with composers and sculptors, working to expand poetry’s vocabulary and reach.  And today, she has given us all a good reason to quickly pick up the phone and call Mom.  Or, if that is an impossibility, perhaps we can spend a few minutes following in memory’s tracks, journeying back to a time when it was an unexpected joy, simply to see through each other’s eyes.





Red Letters 3.0


* If you would like to receive these poems every Friday in your own in-box – or would like to write in with comments or submissions – send correspondence to:



To learn more about the origins of the Red Letter Project, check out an essay I wrote for Arrowsmith Magazine:


and the Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene


For updates and announcements about Red Letter projects and poetry readings, please follow me on Twitter