Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Ibbetson Street Pushcart Nominees for 2022


Dennis Daly  "Judgement Day at the All- Souls Lounge"

Charles Coe   "Night Birds" 

Claire Scott    " Rearranging" 

Joyce B. Lazarus  "Losses"

Ruth Hoberman  " How to Cezanne"

Deborah Leipziger  "Self Archaeologist'

* Thanks to Harris Gardner, Lawrence Kessenich, and Ravi Yelamanchili for their choices.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Somerville writer Rachel Ranie Taube: A Fabulist and a Feminist


Recently, I was contacted by Rachel Ranie Taube about a project she is working on. She has created a website that collects comments from Somerville writers about how they view Somerville as a 'place' to write. After she contributed her article about the project to Off the Shelf, I decided to interview her about her own writing life.

What brought you to Somerville, and how has it been for you as a writer?

After roving around a bit in the pandemic, my husband and I moved to Somerville for work in summer 2021. I’ve lived in a lot of different places, from Manhattan to Wilmington, North Carolina, and I feel lucky to live in a city where there’s both a wealth of cultural opportunities and space to be in nature. The wonderful Somerville Arts Council is always running some new program, whether a street fair or musical performance. I live a short walk to Alewife Brook Reservation and the bike path, and a quick drive to the Fells and Walden. When I’m stuck in my writing, a walk in the reservation or down new streets usually does the trick.

You describe yourself as a fabulist writer, which is defined as a teller of fables, but it also has a negative connotation. According to the Oxford Dictionary it also can mean, " A liar, a person who invents elaborates, dishonest stories." How would you respond to this?

I think two things are simultaneously true: writing always bends and transforms its subject matter, and the goal of writing is to tell the truth.

When I say I’m a fabulist writer, what I mean is that I incorporate speculative or magical realist elements into my work—things happen in my stories that don’t happen in the real world. For example, in one of my stories a girl transforms into a buffalo at night; in another, a woman shrinks over the course of a trip abroad with friends. Some of my favorite writers in the genre are Helen Oyeyemi, Samantha Hunt, Lauren van den Berg, and Carmen Maria Machado.

The reason I’m drawn to fabulist writing is actually because I find it more truthful; it makes intangible things literal. For example, the transformations in the stories I mentioned occur, in part, because of the characters’ relationship dynamics. In another project I’m working on, women inherit and dream their mothers’ memories—which has allowed me to write about the inherent strangeness of mother-daughter relationships. At its best, fabulism uses surreal or bizarre details to explore familiar situations in novel ways.

You work at a feminist communications agency. What is your role and the mission statement of the company. Does this work inform your fiction and poetry?

I’m the Director of Media Relations at Grey Horse Communications, where we tell stories for mission-driven clients across media, arts, tech, nonprofits, publishing, and more. I’ve gotten to work with some amazing organizations and individuals, from UNICEF and #FreeBritney to Melissa Mills, the first daughter of Jane Roe.

My job allows me to engage on topics like women’s rights on a strategic level. How do I tell this story most clearly? What angle is most compelling, and how does it tie in to larger trends? How do we get journalists and readers to care? Those practical questions certainly help me with clarity and plotting in my fiction, just as my writing experience helps me to get to the heart of our clients’ stories. I’m also of the perspective that all writing is political, so this work helps me to think of my writing as existing within larger dialogues about our world.

I read a piece of flash fiction piece about a girl and an intrusive, and nefarious crow. You also write poetry. What subjects draw you in, and which genre is more appealing to you fiction, non-fiction or poetry.

I’m especially drawn to writing about the way that societal forces work on girls and women. So that story is about an intrusive, nefarious crow; it’s also a fable that plays on the trope of a princess in a tower needing to be rescued. I also love writing about family dynamics, and investing stories with a strong sense of place.

I spend most of my time writing fiction. Fiction gives me the most unexpected opportunities for invention, and it feels the most like wandering the wilderness. After many years of practice, I still have very little idea what I’m doing every time I enter a new project, which is thrilling. I write some nonfiction too—book reviews, author interviews, the occasional craft essay—mostly because it’s such a good way to connect with the literary community.

Why should we read your work?

The writer Kelly Link often talks about genre as a promise of pleasure. My goal is that readers experience something thoroughly engaging and unexpected in my writing, whether that’s through fabulist inventions or carefully crafted language. I hope I leave readers feeling thoughtful; maybe a little unhinged.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Red Letter Poem #137

 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.


                                                                                                          – Steven Ratiner





Red Letter Poem #137





It’s an obligatory moment at many holiday gatherings: taking turns around the dinner table, each one coaxed to mention something you’re thankful for.  Many of us are so fortunate, we have a long list to choose from – but for me, the place of abundance always begins with the people in my life, the friends and family who are the source of such confounding joy, such a compelling sense of purpose and meaning.  If you’re especially lucky, those very faces are arrayed around the table at which you sit.  But there are others scattered across memory (those distant or vanished completely) upon whose love the foundation of your life, your growth, was built – and perhaps they too must be summoned to this occasion.  I remember, years ago, hearing the famed writer Maya Angelou speaking at a local college.  She began with a sentence intended to startle us: "You have been paid for.”  It required no explanation to grasp how volatile a statement that was, especially coming from a person of color.  “Each of you, Black, White, Brown, Yellow, Red. . .has been paid for.  But for the sacrifices made by some of your ancestors, you would not be here; they have paid for you.  So, when you enter a challenging situation, bring them on the stage with you; let their distant voices add timbre and strength to your words.  For it is your job to pay for those who are yet to come."


And so in today’s Red Letter, we are introduced to “Miss Lutie”, courtesy of poet, storyteller, and singer CD Collins.  Kentucky-born, she now makes her home in the Boston area, having transplanted her Southern musical and storytelling roots into our flinty New England soil.  She’s the author of Blue Land (short stories, published by Polyho Press); the poetry collection Self Portrait With Severed Head (from Ibbetson Street); a novel (Afterheat – issued by Empty City); and five spoken word/music recordings (the first, Kentucky Stories, was chosen as Best Spoken Word album at the Boston Poetry Awards.)  In this new poem, she places herself once again in that tiny kindergarten classroom of her childhood Mt. Sterling community, remembering Miss Lutie Quisenberry, a teacher whose outsized effect on her life has extended through the decades. 


A masterful storyteller, CD understands how the specificity of sense-impressions are capable of situating a reader in a new circumstance so they might vicariously take part in the moment unfolding.  That “mineral breath”, that whiff of the Fryolater, the glimmering dime-sized droplets of rain – they help us inhabit the mind of this precocious four-year-old (yes, four!  Her working parents needed to find some sort of childcare for their young daughter and lied about her age.)  We are witnessing here a poetic consciousness beginning to emerge – and thank goodness she had that generous soul, Miss Lutie, as her spirit-guide.  Educators rarely know what sort of lasting effect they are having on their students’ lives.  Teaching is both a profession and act of faith.  And whether we know it or not, we are all constantly being taught and teaching others in turn.  Ms. Angelou added: “We are braver and wiser because they existed, those strong women and strong men... We are who we are because they were who they were.  It's wise to know where you come from, who called your name.”  Miss Lutie called this child’s name.  As a matured talent, this poet is now calling ours.  Grateful that others “paid” for her life, CD is now paying it forward – “for those who are yet to come.”  I’ll give thanks for all the poets and wordsmiths, singers and dancers, who helped make a place for me at this table.




Miss Lutie



This woman with the mineral breath knows

you still speak to the forest animals,

that you once tried to make fireworks with flowers and precious sand,

thought you could walk off the chicken coop and fly.


She will hold all of you tenderly at your little desks,

will free you as often as she can,

because your body craves tearing through the playground,

sliding into third base, gathering as much dust as possible,

because you thrive in the dirt you’re made of.

She knows you need to stride to the pencil sharpener

just to relieve that spring inside you.


Her breath is silver with the frost of the mountain,

she has climbed down from,

to teach you letters and numbers,

which sacks have seeds you can plant,

which ones are too heavy a burden for your small bones to bear.

She will teach you that it’s not important to count the polished dimes

in the storm you got caught in,

but to watch them flashing from the sky,

under whatever shelter you can find. 

She will show you how to decipher letters and words

so that you can learn the stories of other children,

their small hands in the fur of the creatures that walk beside them.


Once, she dissolved a tiny square of paper in her mouth,      

ate breakfast at dawn in the diner,

scented with the seductive oils of the Fryolater.

Saw the towers spring up and down like accordions,

The birds in the trees outside the library chattered excitedly;

she understood them.


And may divine you, too, if you allow her.

Miss Ludie’s eyes are the blue of the hyacinths

she brought in one day,

setting the vase on her oak table.

Gaze into her eyes, that unfathomable blue.

The color of the sea under a shimmering dome of sky.

You’ve never seen a blue like that before.



                                    ––CD Collins





The 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:


Two of our partner sites will continue re-posting each Red Letter weekly: the YourArlington news blog



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          



Saturday, November 19, 2022

Red Letter Poem #136

 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.


                                                                                                          – SteveRatiner





Red Letter Poem #136





"It's a beautiful day for a ballgame.  Let's play two!"


      Ernie Banks,

Hall of Fame shortstop, the Chicago Cubs



Now that we’ve just emerged from two of America’s tumultuous cultural rituals – baseball’s World Series, and our electoral trial by fire – I thought it a perfect time to invite poet E. Ethelbert Miller to reframe the conversation with work from his new collection How I Found Love Behind the Catcher’s Mask (City Point Press).  It’s the third volume in a trilogy that uses baseball as a window into the American landscape of the 20th century and our nascent 21st.  But this is no simple homage to the sport he loves and its famed practitioners; it’s a deep examination of the psychic forces that help make us American or, in other cases, attempt to unmake us.  And, in Ethelbert’s mind, baseball is inextricably braided with jazz, poetry, race relations, and our often-thwarted hunger for love, for a sense of belonging.  Taken all together, he’s now created a magnificent sequence of over 150 poems where the language of baseball – it’s diction, mindset, rich history – become a springboard for the poet to examine the odyssey of his own life and that of his contemporaries (though Odysseus, now that I think of it, would have a hell of a time fielding pop flies while tied to his ship’s mast.)  The poems are rich in metaphor, redolent with baseball slang and lore; they offer us the long arc of memory, as thrilling as any homerun swing. 


Following Ernie’s dictum, here’s a doubleheader of short poems from Ethelbert’s collection.  I love the way disparate trains of thought interweave in his work, one context throwing light upon the other.  But listen, as well, to the rhythmic invention running through his poems – the litany of we’s in the first piece, standing perhaps against the wave of divisiveness we’ve been suffering in recent times.  And my heart fluttered just a bit (like trumpet keys? like a knuckleball?) with that closing cascade of d’s in the Ellington piece, eye and ear equally engaged.


It would be impossible to fit all of Ethelbert’s stats and honors within this baseball card-sized introduction.  So let me simply say he’s a poet, teacher, and self-appointed ‘literary activist’ based in Washington D.C. (though the mayor of Baltimore made him an honorary citizen – hoping, perhaps, he might wear two insignias on his cap when he’s finally inducted into the poet’s Hall of Fame.)  He’s the author of numerous poetry collections, a pair of stirring memoirs, and is the editor of two anthologies including the seminal In Search of Color Everywhere – “a chronicle of the African-American experience and the making of America.”  Since 1974, he’s served as director of the African American Studies Resource Center at Howard University; he’s also the editor of Poet Lore, the oldest continuously-published literary journal in America that once featured the likes of Rilke, Verlaine, and Emma Lazarus in its pages.  And if you’ll permit me to go into extra innings, I found out just now that Ethelbert was nominated for a 2023 Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album – and if that doesn’t deserve an exclamation point (that little baseball bat balanced atop a ball), I don’t know what does!  Now, if the poet can only handle the curve. . .



Trapped Inside the Glove:

The American Pitch


We almost took a hard fast one to the head.

We stumbled out of voting booths as if we had seen a curve.

We avoided the sliders as if they were lies.

We knew what cutters did to our rights.

We lived with the crazy knuckleballs of history.

We kept swinging at the flutter, the rotation of freedom.




Sophisticated Lady


Why did Ellington say music was his mistress

and not baseball?


Somewhere between swing and bebop

Satchel Paige took the mound.


Fingering the keys is as beautiful

as fingering the ball.


Cool Papa Bell believed he was cooler than jazz.

Turn out the lights and grab the bass by the bed.


Did Dizzy Dean ever wear a beret?

Dizzy did.



                                    ––E. Ethelbert Miller




The 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:


Two of our partner sites will continue re-posting each Red Letter weekly: the YourArlington news blog



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