Friday, August 05, 2022

New England Poetry Club: Prize Winners and Honorable Mentions


 

Red Letter Poem #122

 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 #122

 

 

 

If perhaps poets have ‘origin stories’ (like those heroes and heroines in adventure movies), they too will often revolve around an old magical-looking text the young protagonist stumbles upon on some dusty shelf.  But often, in these cases, the magical designation embossed on the cover will read: Webster’s (that was true in my case) – or, for poet Alice Kociemba, the even-more-formidable Oxford English.  Most likely we nascent poets already have a propensity for language, but these early deep-dives into the dictionary tend to yield much more than curious words.  They offer a sense of enormity – that every thing we might ever glimpse, every thought we might entertain, has attached to it a word (or a trove of verbiage) to signify its presence.  Within a dictionary (and within our lives, though we often forget), words carry history, genealogy, and the resonance of familial ties.  They remind us that billions of mouths, that existed long before ours, spoke these very words, trying to grasp the meaning of their days – as we are doing now.  And that idea affirms – in a manner that is both comforting and humbling – others have gone through and felt what we do at this moment (though we upstart poets surely believe that no one has ever made words feel what we are about to make them feel, as we reach for our pen.)

 

Alice, I am happy to say, is still reaching – and her efforts have resulted in the poetry collection Bourne Bridge (Turning Point Press), and the chapbook Death of Teaticket Hardware.  She’s also published widely in literary journals and anthologies.  As the founding director of Calliope, Alice has hosted readings, writing workshops, and a poetry appreciation group at the Falmouth Public Library, supporting other dictionary-navigators and poetry-explorers.  Calliope’s latest project – in partnership with Bass River Press (an imprint of the Cultural Center of Cape Cod) – is the recently-published anthology, From the Farther Shore: Discovering Cape Cod and the Islands Through Poetry; and what better guide than poems to explore both this outer and inner geography.  Calliope’s mission is listed as three words: Appreciate. Create. Celebrate.  But, more than simply words, these are lodestars (beacons, balefires, trail markers – sorry, I couldn’t help myself) Alice has employed to guide her own life’s progress; or, as in the case of this poem, to backtrack into memory in order to rescue what, if not for the uncanny power of words, would forever remain beyond her reach.

 

 

 

 

Words Have Their Own Stories

 

 

After school, she takes the Oxford English Dictionary

off its stand, settles into the library’s  window seat.

Takes her glasses off, puts her chin close to the page.

 

She’ll be quizzed tomorrow. Today’s word is passage.

 

But her finger stops at Pass. From the Old French, passer,

to the Vulgar Latin, passare, to the Latin, passus.

To step, to set a pace, to go away, to depart.

 

To die. As in “pass on.”

 

Use it in a sentence.

 

Your father passed last night, unexpected. 

 

In fading light, she senses him

hovering outside the window like a butterfly

 

that floats

                        then stills

     before it disappears.

 

 

       ––Alice Kociemba

 

 

 

 

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:

steven.arlingtonlaureate@gmail.com

 

 

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

https://www.arrowsmithpress.com/community-of-voices

 

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

https://www.yourarlington.com/easyblog/entry/28-poetry/3168-redletter-071522

 

 

and the Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene

http://dougholder.blogspot.com

 

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

@StevenRatiner

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Somerville artist Iku Oseki: A painter who likes her work to talk

 

If you view the paintings of Somerville artist Iku Oseki you may find them talking to you. And indeed, you are not losing it; but her work has a strong sense of narrative-- a storyline, one might say. I caught up with the artist before she was off to south of the border---Mexico to be exact.



How has Somerville been for you as a working artist?

I have been here since the year the Red Line opened up farther from Harvard Sq. My husband and I moved to Porter Sq. right at the time of the station opening, and I was thrilled!! The whole place changed dramatically after that. The convenience, the youthful energy with lots of college students, and the artists community here all contribute to my creativity.


You were born in Japan. But you have a great interest in Mexico and its culture. What whet your appetite for this country and its people?

In the early 90’s, we discovered a small ( now big!! ) town in the central highland called San Miguel de Allende which was known for Institute de Allende, an art school with tremendous offerings of art classes. There is another art institution called Bellas Artes with art, music, and dance galore. Both of us being artists, immediately we fell in love with this place and kept coming back almost every summer with our daughter, who could participate in children’s art and crafts camps. As the town grew, and now has been known as one of the best retiring communities for foreigners, we’ve made many friends, expats and Mexicans, and have continued to visit and enjoy the culture, arts ( now they host a international chamber music festival and independent film festival during each summer ), food, and the relaxed lifestyle.


You describe your paintings as abstracts with narratives. Is it hard to combine the two?

Not at all! We artists know that simple ( not mixed media ) paintings consist of brush marks ( or applied paint with some kind of tools). Period! I create my brush marks in pretty free-forming, unconscious-driven manners, letting accidental happenings thrive all the time. Yet, I always have a goal of telling some story, and my paintings to be “talkative.”


Vivid color plays a big role in your work. Explain.

I am very particular about color. One of the main lessons I got in the art school days was about color, and I learned to use mainly two opposite colors in the color wheel. My favorite combo is yellow ochre and purple. I do paint a lot in Mexico, and its color has affected me very much. But, I also consciously think of the color theme when I paint about different countries, for example. I was in Croatia in 2018, and that country has its own color. We were mainly in the coastal area, and the color of the Adriatic sea was dominant. But, I also picked navy blue for Croatia because its lean toward conservatism and slight “heaviness” from the effect of the war still felt there.


In your Covid 19 series of paintings--you have some work that portrays city scenes. It seems that you are viewing them from a distorted lens--something is askew. I assume that this is a metaphor for a world out of whack.

Of course! Also, as you’ve noticed, I like painting people. But, Covid forced me not to paint people, but empty landscapes ( I usually paint landscapes with people in the normal time ) and nature.


Reading about your process, I found many parallels between yours and my process as a poet. Have you ever thought about the intersection of poetry and art?

Definitely! As I said before, I’d like my paintings to be “talkative,” and it means that I want them to speak to you, the viewer, to have a chat, or a serious conversation. Going back to the previous question, a poem is just an arrangement of words in the same manner a painting is a bunch of brush marks, both in a sense “abstract.” Yet, when it is done consciously with specific themes or goals, with careful emphasis here and there, it becomes descriptive of something.


Did you formally study art?

Yes, I went to Mass Art. I loved that school!! I was there for four years in the 80’s, not really aiming for a degree since I already had a BA. I focused on painting and printmaking. But, I also studied graphic design. In Mexico, I learned to do ceramics.


Why should we view and purchase your work?

Phew!! Nobody ever has asked me that question so bluntly!

You buy art because you like it so much that you feel you cannot part from it. You have to feel that you have to live with it. I hope that is how people would purchase my work.

In terms of viewing, we artists see how people come to our shows and just zip through quickly when the work doesn’t get you involved right away. There is nothing you can do about that. We hope that once in a while someone notices the “chatter,” the “Hey! Come talk to me!” and stops and listens. Also, we are lucky to be surrounded by original paintings in our house, and it is absolutely different to have an original painting from having a print or a copy. It is expensive to own an original. But, it is well worth it, and my paintings would keep you company like old friends.

For more information go to:   https://www.ikuoseki.com/home

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Red Letter Poem #120

 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 #120

 

 

 

This virus – I’m happy to report – is stunningly potent and highly transmissible: the creative spark.  And it’s capable of infecting you – not only from close contact with your contemporaries (sometimes, these days, I have a hard time reading more than three or four poems in a journal before I’m seized by that quiet voice prompting the opening line of a new poem), but also from long-dormant strains still circulating in the cultural landscape.  Whitman, Li Bai, Sappho, Mayakovsky, Mirabai all remain highly contagious, even after centuries, producing fever, tremors, and bouts of euphoria.

 

Of all the wildly-creative strains with whom I’ve personally come into contact, the one named William Stafford was likely the most endemic and enduring.  I am never surprised when other writers mention this acclaimed poet’s work as a source of inspiration; or his essays on the art of writing, and how his daily practice influenced their own; or (for those fortunate enough to have studied with him) the effect his very presence had on their creative approach and on their long-term emotional lives.  I was delighted to have interviewed him in 1991, not long before his death,  for my collection Giving Their Word – and I can’t tell you how many ways his influence continues with me today.  Here’s just one example that I think anyone engaged in a creative endeavor will appreciate.  Early on, he wrote a poem entitled “Traveling through the Dark” about coming across a deer on a country road who had been hit by a car.  Touching the belly of the doe, the speaker feels the still-warm fawn inside the dead mother.  When Stafford first shared the piece with poet-friends, he described how they reacted to the unexpected (and rather jarring) closing lines.  “‘No, no, Bill, you can't end it like this!  You can't end it pushing the deer over the edge into the river.’  And right away, I thought, ‘Oh, I can't, eh?’”  Stafford’s was a notoriously independent mind and he was neither swayed by social expectations nor literary fashion.  The poem, he explained to me, garnered dozens of rejections before one magazine’s acceptance letter arrived in his mailbox.  It would eventually become the title poem in his National Book Award-winning second collection and one of his most anthologized pieces in a long and storied career.  That persistence, that trust of the self’s inner compass, might serve us all well.  Here’s one of the exchanges with Bill that comes to mind almost on a weekly basis: “The editor says in his [rejection] note, 'Sorry, this is not for us. . .'.  Should I assume it is indeed 'not for us?'  I don't recognize it.  I think: I've got to find a better editor.”

 

Bruce Bond – a gifted poet and educator whose prolific tendencies rival those of Stafford’s – is the author of over thirty poetry collections, the most recent being Liberation of Dissonance (Nicholas Schaffner Award for Literature in Music), and the forthcoming Choreomania (from MadHat) which should be out any day now.  His work has been selected for seven editions of the annual Best American Poetry.  He’s Regents Emeritus Professor of English at the University of North Texas.  The spirit of this new poem debuting here, is inextricably linked to “Traveling through the Dark.”  Stafford’s piece – near its conclusion, and as he wrestles with the right course of action – says: “I could hear the wilderness listen.”  It is listening still in the vicinity of Bruce’s opened notebook – though I wonder whether the speaker in “Wilderness” is indeed the natural world, or the long-dead poet, or the inky phantom of the fateful deer.  But the “no one” being given voice here addresses the trembling we all feel within our mortal journey which, I’m sure you’ll agree, is traveled mostly through an unfathomable darkness.  For brief but exhilarating moments, we sometimes find we are able to truly see where we are – by the beam of Stafford’s headlights, perhaps; or Bruce Bond’s “good star”; or by the candlewick of a poem. Sometimes it’s one you’ve chanced upon in a journal or book, inflaming the imagination; other times, it’s one as-of-yet unwritten, making the head throb and the heart race; and the only cure is fresh ink on an unmarked page.

 

 

 

Wilderness

 

 

 

To you, if you are listening,

 

                    I am no one

and so hear things that no one hears.

 

If a deer leaps from nowhere

            to the road, what it leaves

 

of the many bleeds into one.

            And for a moment I hear less,

 

as no one hears.  Minus one.

            But know the river is a road

 

we walk together.  We must.

            It crackles with a good star

 

that burns the name we give it.

            If I come upon your body

 

in my path, know I will not, cannot,

            leave.  Although I travel on.

 

 

                         –– Bruce Bond

 

 

 

 

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:

steven.arlingtonlaureate@gmail.com

 

 

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

https://www.arrowsmithpress.com/community-of-voices

 

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

https://www.yourarlington.com/easyblog/entry/28-poetry/3149-redletter-052722

 

 

and the Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene

http://dougholder.blogspot.com

 

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

@StevenRatiner