Saturday, May 15, 2021

The Red Letter Poem Project

 The Red Letter Poem Project


The Red Letters 2.0:  

When I was first appointed as Poet Laureate for Arlington, MA one of my goals was to help bring the strength and delight of poetry into unexpected settings. The Red Letter Poems Project was going to be a novel way of sharing Arlington’s poetic voices, sent off in bright red envelopes, a one-off mass mailing intended to surprise and delight. But when the Corona crisis struck, and families everywhere were suffering a fearful uncertainty in enforced isolation, I converted the idea into an e-version which has gone out weekly ever since. Because of the partnership I forged with seven organizations, mainstays of our community, the poems have been able to reach tens of thousands of readers, throughout Arlington and far beyond its borders. I hope you too are grateful that these groups stepped up and reached out: The Arlington Commission for Arts and Culture, The Arlington Center for the Arts, The Arlington Public Library, The Arlington International Film Festival, Arlington Community Education, The Council on Aging, and – each of which distributes or posts the new Red Letter installments and, in many cases, provide a space where all the poems of this evolving anthology continue to be available. And I’m delighted to add our newest RLP partner: Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene – a blog that is a marvelous poetry resource.

But now we are experiencing a triple pandemic:

the rapid spread of the Covid virus, which then created an economic catastrophe, and served to further expose our long-standing crises around race and social justice. My hope is to have the Red Letters continue as a forum for poetic voices – from Arlington and all of the Commonwealth – that will help us gain perspective on where we are at this crucial moment and how we envision a healing will emerge. So please: pass the word, submit new poems, continue sharing the installments with your own e-lists and social media sites (#RedLetterPoems, #ArlingtonPoetLaureate, #SeeingBeyondCorona), and help further the conversation. Art-making has always been the way we human beings reflect on what is around us, work to alter our circumstances, and dream of what may still be possible. In its own small way, the Red Letters intends to draw upon our deepest voices to promote just such a healing and share our enduring hope for something better.

If you would like to receive these poems every Friday in your in-box plus notices about future poetry events, send an e-mail to: with the subject line ‘mailing list’.


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 #59



Paradisal, don’t you think?  Those images on television commercials or older programs where people approach – in a cafe, on the street – and just talk to each other!  Sometimes even with strangers!  And in some instances – I tremble just to think of it – they embrace!  Fifteen months ago, such ordinary contact would not have earned our attention, let alone our rejoicing.  But now, after our long isolation and the gradual arrival of Covid vaccines, we’ve begun a process people are calling re-entry – slowly feeling our way back into the shared world.  But much has happened in the interim – aside from the pandemic – and it’s not quite the same place we retreated from all those months ago.


Adnan Onart’s poem comes from those before-times, when our human instinct for connection, conversation, kinship could be given easy expression.  Beginning with the title, his poem adopts a playful tone, gently defies expectations, leads us in unanticipated directions: how those few narrative details begin to build a small portrait of this chance meeting between strangers; how their simple fellowship is based on ties to their religious tradition, and the uneasy place that earns them in American society.  When the poem takes a darker turn, I found myself wondering about the nature of my own re-entry: how was I going to be more aware of difference, the role it plays in even casual interaction, and my own unexamined biases?  Since we’ve all been forced to undergo a collective awakening – concerning issues like race, political ideology, and our suddenly palpable mortality – will we be able to put into practice what we’ve learned about our country, about ourselves, or simply slip back into old patterns of behavior?  For me, poems like Adnan’s become a marker by which I can (hopefully) navigate.


Adnan was introduced to Red Letter readers with his wonderful poem “Morning Prayer” (RLP #31), one of the most popular pieces I’ve featured.  His work has appeared in a number of journals including Prairie SchoonerColere Magazine, Red Wheel Barrow, and The Massachusetts Review.  His first poetry collection was The Passport You Asked For (The Aeolos Press) – and he is also a talented street photographer, roaming Boston neighborhoods in search of images that illuminate this, his adoptive home.  I believe that’s a central theme in all his creative work: what we share – and how that very notion of we comes about in the first place.



Ramadan in Dunkin Donuts



From his asking about the time

and double-checking his watch,

I understood:
he was about to break his fast.

Selamün Aleyküm, I said,

the only Arabic I knew
for all practical purposes.
Aleyküm Selam, he replied.
He was setting his table:
two donuts, one Chocolate Glazed,

the other Boston Kreme
and a thick lentil soup
he had apparently brought
from the grocery store
across the street.
Do you want to sit down
and share?

I thanked him, no.
Aren’t you fasting?
I explained:
my high blood pressure,
my medication.

He pointed to one of the donuts:

Still, he said, let’s share.
The collapsing Twin Towers,
the beheaded hostages,
and the jumpy look on people’s faces

hearing my name.
We already do, I said.



–– Adnan Adam Onart

Somerville Poet Gloria Mindock: A Poet who makes 'ashes' fly to the sky...


Interview with Doug Holder

Somerville Poet, publisher Gloria Mindock is an institution around our town, and beyond. She founded the Cervena Barva Press, and was our former poet laureate. She has been active member of the arts scene for a number of decades. Mindock has a new poetry collection "Ash" from the Glass Lyre Press. This is from their website:

In Ash, Gloria Mindock writes a gritty, beautifully haunting collection of poetry. Ash is what remains behind after destruction, ruin, death, and burning. Similarly, the poems in this collection are what will remain. Fight the shadows and wade through the darkness on a path paved by Mindock's vivid imagery, stark language, and dynamic voice, all of which, make for a most memorable experience. Now more than ever, we need these poems. With the utmost economy of words, skillful syntax, and emotional connections, each poem reverberates into the depths of your consciousness. Dark, intense, and wholly unique, Ash, by Gloria Mindock is what you've been waiting for- a collection of poetry that consumes and smolders... 

 -Renuka Raghavan, author of Out of the Blue and The Face I Desire

You start your new poetry collection " Ash" with a quote from Lidija Dimkovska, " the monster is sitting next to me, and it's so crowded in there, the membrane between me and the events of the world are going to burst." Have things for you burst.—is the membrane, no more?

When I read her quote, I had to use it. The world is so full of chaos everywhere you look. There are atrocities, Covid, social justice issues, power struggles, border woes, economic trouble, death, hate crimes, and the list goes on. Whatever membrane there is, it is quickly disappearing. For me, I cling on to hope that things will get better. There are so many wonderful people out there. I hang on to that.

You are known as a dark poet, but do you have a sense of ugly/beauty, and gallows humor a midst the carnage?

Yes, I am known as a dark poet in my writing, but I am a happy person, cheerful, and find humor in so many things. There are so many beautiful places in this world to see and be a part of. In my life, all my friends are positive, loyal, and caring. Being a publisher, has brought so many people into my life from all over the world. This is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. We all are bridging the gaps between countries and learning about one another.

I also give time to the things that need to change and be a voice for the people who have no voice. This is my calling. Right now, many of us are working to help a writer in Africa because the government is after him because he speaks his mind. He loves his country but has no freedom. I cannot say too much about this because he is in hiding.

I can find humor but to deal with the ugly, the carnage, I keep things in perspective. I do all I can to change the bad but live my life. I love to bring joy into this world and shine light in the dark corners of the world.

In your title poem " Ash," with an ashes to ashes, dust to dust theme, you speculate that your ash will may be part of a child's toy, or a piece of trash blowing in the wind. You were brought up a Catholic, do you have any personal sense of the afterlife?

I consider myself spiritual. I was raised Catholic and (Saint)Pope John XXIII is my relative on one side of my family and on the other side, there are many priests. I do believe in an afterlife, Angels and God. I respect all religious beliefs and have also taken some of those beliefs into my life too.

Poet Flavia Cosma opined that you know nothing heals. Do you agree with that statement--is there ever a balm that heals our wounds?

Everyone is wounded in some way or another. It could be a little wound or a big one. Being a counselor and clinical director in addictions for almost 40 years, I have seen the wounded. Dealing with many veterans at times, I have seen the wounded. Watching the news, I see the wounded. The fact is the world is wounded, but you learn to live with it. When you help others and show kindness, this helps the wounds heal, and make wounds easier to live with.

The 'sky' in your poems, seem more than just a place for ash to drift down. It seems a place of transcendence, a place where you can fly.

I have always, since a young girl, seen the sky as heaven. It is so beautiful. The stars at night so gorgeous. It is a place of calm looking at us. It too has a violent side, bad storms, floods caused by rain, and tornadoes. There is beauty with the storms, but it is horrible when people lose their homes or die. Everything seems to have another side to it. No matter what, it is transcendence, and the universe is where you fly. Ash is just a memory the rest of us have. We never forget those we love that have passed on.

Many of your books deal with atrocities, what draws you to this?

As mentioned above, I try to be a voice for those who don’t have a voice. It is important for me to bring awareness to what is going on. It is surprising how many people don’t know what is happening or are not interested in being involved. When innocent people are getting slaughtered, how can you turn away and live with yourself? So many countries over the years ignored the atrocities happening. The UN does not want to call situations a genocide because they will have to get involved. This infuriates me. So many countries turn a blind eye. You see this happening over and over. So no, I will never shut up about it. I am currently writing about Syria. I do have first-hand accounts of the horror. So I continue…