Saturday, May 29, 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 #61



I love this story: a father, José Ruiz, is an accomplished painter but a poorly-paid teacher at the local art school in Málaga.  He begins offering art instruction to his young, willful, but obviously gifted son.  As time passes, the boy’s abilities seem to develop with uncanny speed.  Eventually, examining one of his child’s efforts, the parent is so deeply moved he leaves the room and returns with his own set of paints and brushes and gives them to young Pablo, aged thirteen – and Picasso the Elder retires from painting.  The anecdote can be seen as an example of the deep humility any teacher must bring to the enterprise of developing young minds.  But it is also illustrative of the pain – the glorious, soul-shaking self-examination – every good teacher must face if they are to enable those same students to eventually break free and carve out their own path in the world, perhaps to even eclipse the very teacher who first spurred them on.


Something of that dynamic is taking place inside Steven Cramer’s marvelously edgy poem “Justice,” an homage to the esteemed poet and educator Donald Justice, who taught Steven at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.  In fact, Justice’s reputation as a gifted teacher at times surpassed his stature as a poet – though, in a wonderful essay written after his mentor’s passing in 2004, Steven makes clear his high regard for each of Justice’s twin devotions.  And yet, there is that moment of breaking away, of wresting control from even the memory of one’s teacher – the hard but necessary step every one of us must take if we’re to make our best efforts resolutely our own.  The poem skates along that knife’s edge: how to turn away from and yet maintain deep affection for those who helped form our impressionable selves.  And for those of us not lucky enough to have had a teacher like Justice, I recommend the collection Compendium, assembled by two of his former students; they brought together all of the poet’s pedagogical materials on the art of prosody – the form and musicality that distinguishes poems from all other writing.


It’s hardly a coincidence that Steven has authored six highly-regarded collections of poetry, while also becoming a talented and rigorous teacher at Lesley University (where he was the founding director of their MFA program.)  Here, in the heart of commencement season, it’s good to be reminded that such work honors those teachers that inspired our own growth, even as we in turn cultivate the minds of young students just beginning to rise – the truest form of poetic justice.





While corks popped, I led you up

through flickers, then swells, of applause.

Your lectern was a cairn of books, mine

risen from the base of yours.


You bowed.  Not unlike, I thought, that bum

rummaging through trash near the hotel vestibule.

“Vestibule, in a poem,” you said, “undoes

everything I taught you.  Still, keep trash.


Peering out, you winced, as when you’d tear

your glasses off and hold

our mimeo-blue bones up to the light.

Once, I swear, I saw you sniff.


“Now, now, if ever, love opening your eyes,”

you began, the line not yours but Weldon Kees—

yet done such justice, everyone

longed to be you being him . . . except me,


sorry.  I’m keeping vestibule,

glad you liked trash.  Though I can’t defend the bum,

he stays.  Afterwards, we allowed

one hug, as we’d never done


in a world where acids yellow

the signatures of your perfect-bound

debut, shelved between József and Juvenal.

The heat of that hug; the Bentons we shared; our smoke.


                                                ­­–– Steven Cramer

                                                          (from: Listen – MadHat Press)

The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet by Michael Mann


The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet by Michael Mann. Public Affairs, New York, 2021. 351 pages. $29.

By Ed Meek

If you’ve had enough of climate denialists, doomsayers, distorters and deflectors, Michael Mann’s new book provides the antidote of hope with which to fight what many are now calling the war on climate change. Michael Mann is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences and a distinguished professor of Atmospheric Science at Penn State. He is famous for what is referred to as the “hockey stick” diagram that outlines the rise in global temperature since the Industrial Revolution (between 1 and 1.5 degrees Centigrade).

In the effort to fight this war against climate change, Mann spends most of his book identifying the enemies of this effort in order to get us all on the same page. The first few chapters round up the usual suspects: the fossil fuel industry and the big money that is behind confusing us and sowing doubt. Mann compares the fossil fuel industry to big tobacco. “Doubt is our product,” said a tobacco executive when confronted with evidence that smoking caused cancer. Mann points to the long history of corporations attacking the messenger beginning with Rachel Carson whose book Silent Spring “ushered in the modern environmental movement.” When Carson pointed out the tragic consequences for animals of using the pesticide DDT, she was hit with character assassination by Monsanto.

As I’m sure you’ve heard, Exxon in the early 1980s, asked its own scientists to investigate the effects of burning fossil fuels. Internal memos predicted the rise in CO2 and global temperatures. Exxon decided to keep this information from the public and instead to engage in decades of obfuscation. Eventually however, this approach didn’t work because global temperatures, along with CO2 levels, were obviously rising.

So, companies like Exxon and BP decided to take another approach. Mann refers to it as the “Crying Indian.” The Crying Indian was an advertisement in the 1970s by Coca Cola in which a native American is shown shedding a tear over littering. The message of the ad was that we should all pick up after ourselves to protect our environment. The actual purpose behind this campaign was to prevent bottle bills being passed because Coke thought they would cut into their profits and to shift the responsibility for protecting the environment to us.

Mann says fossil fuel companies use this same approach to deflect the public by getting us to focus on what we, individually, should be doing. That is, if fossil fuel companies can get us to feel guilty about our role in climate change, we won’t go after them. Oddly enough, as Mann points out, liberals often buy into the idea that it is our fault rather than the fault of fossil fuel companies and the politicians who support them.

This idea is a hard one for Americans to shake with our “selfie” culture in which you are the center of the universe. We are sold the idea that we are in control, and there is a lot of peer pressure to cut back on flying or become vegetarians or drive a hybrid, but as Mann points out, although it is good if we make changes as individuals that reduce our carbon imprint, it is only if fossil fuel companies stop drilling and mining and if our politicians create laws that help us transition to clean energy that we will be able to successfully win the war on climate change.

Mann also assails those on the left and right for indulging in worst case scenarios He takes on David Wallace Wells who wrote Uninhabitable Earth, making the case that it doesn’t help the cause to scare people out of their wits. Mann’s position is that if we work together, we still have time to win the war on climate change.

Mann also calls leftists like the Sunrise Movement, Bernie Sanders and AOC to account for refusing to back a carbon tax because, according to them, it will hurt the poor. As Mann says, we need to use all the tools available and one of them is a tax on carbon.

Overall, Mann finds Greta Thunberg and the youth movement against climate change hopeful signs that we are finally beginning to deal with this problem that threatens our environment and our future. He sees us at a turning point because of the mounting evidence that something is seriously wrong with our planet. The wildfires in Australia and in California, the droughts, the floods, the warming and rising oceans and the melting ice at the poles along with the negative effects of climate change on animals, fish, birds and bees—all these factors seem to be sinking in with 63% of Americans who see that “global climate change is affecting their community” and “the federal government is not doing enough about it.” The U.S. “should prioritize developing alternative energy sources” say 79% according to a poll taken last year.

In an excellent essay in this month’s Harper's Magazine, Greg Jackson asks: “Why not address this issue (climate change) head on? Why not seize the opportunity to stimulate our economy, rebuild our nation, take meaningful action, and come together in common purpose?” Jackson claims our country is suffering from depression and an epidemic of loneliness and that the mutual effort required to fight a war on climate change is just what we need. Michael Mann’s new book helps us frame a unified approach to fighting and winning that war. To do that Mann says, “We must vote out politicians who serve as handmaidens for fossil fuel interests and elect those who will champion climate action.”

Monday, May 24, 2021

Somerville Artist Bridget Galway: A window into her artistic soul

Initiated in 2009, the Inside-Out Gallery, located in the CVS Window in Davis Square, is a unique space that allows the public to view an eclectic array of works from artists and local organizations each month. Through May to June, Bridget Galway is displaying her evocative and stunning art.

You talk about being from a bohemian culture of artists. How would you define bohemian?

My early childhood memories of the 50’s and 60’s begin when we were living in New York’s West Village bohemian culture. This is an upbringing that, especially during that time was a departure from the so-called normal. It is rooted in the arts, literary, and spiritual pursuits.

That culture of writers, artists, actors, and musicians, as well as people of all sexual orientations fills my memories with the wonderful experiences that came with it.

This milieu inspired my creativity, and continues to do so to this day.

Like many bohemians during the time of my childhood, we had little money, yet rich in the abundance of that wonderful life. When the rent went up we got moving. Looking back I feel it would have been best if we lived like Gypsies, like the van life, or more so converted school buses of today.

Talk about your experiences in Provincetown and New York City.

In 1971, when I was 17, I left home and moved into a van for a couple of years. I still finished my senior year while living in the van. As I was raised in the sense of always being in transition, I was still able to follow through within what was familiar.

My Mom moved back to Provincetown after I moved out. She had done a brief stint of living there in 1953, before moving to Key West, and then Marathon, where I was born in ’54.

After several sojourns living in different areas, I moved to Provincetown in 1976 until 1984. The 70’s and 80’s were the last romantic bohemian years in Provincetown.

Then the plague AIDS swept through the town, taking the lives of so many loved ones; beautiful young bright beings.

In 1983 I left for Amherst with my 21/2-year-old son Blake. I received a scholarship to attend U/Mass Amherst Art Department, which lead to my career in the arts.

I returned to Provincetown in the summer of 1994 and stayed through the summer after my Mom passed away in 2006. I felt it was time to leave. For me it had lost so much of its romance its history was associated with. There was little to no affordable housing. It had become extremely commercial, and the crowds more like Coney Island.

I moved to Somerville, because at the time my sister Meghan was living in Alston, and I wanted to be close to her. Meghan ended up moving, and I isolated for three years with my two cats, until I got my tenacity in gear and emailed Doug holder. I am not sure how I ended up on his email list, someone must have been watching over and nudging me, I had been ignoring it for three years. I sent him an email introducing myself, and a little about my history. He was quick to respond, and invited me to meet with the Bagel Bards at Au Bon Pan in Davis Square. I have been a Bagel Bard since 2009, and it has been a springboard for my art and writing, and I am so very grateful.

Are you in any 'school' of painting--- which influenced you? I am reminded of the Greenwich Village painter Alice Neel in some of your work. She had a unique quality in her portraiture.

Alice Neel is great. It is a compliment my art reminds you of her. Her portraits convey a moment in time, along with the emotions of her subjects. This is also what I try to capture.

I am not in any particular school of painting. My early inspiration as far as artists was Chagall, and Iris Brody. Iris was a Greenwich Village artist who died quite young. The first piece I saw of hers was when I was 13, at house of a friend of my Mom. After seeing that piece I started drawing surreal images with pen and ink. I continued to do so for many years after, along with my still expressing ideas with my passion for color.

My professor and mentor in college was John Grillo. He was a wonderful colorist. He studied under Hans Hoffman in Provincetown. He started out and continued to be an abstract artist, but worked both abstract and figuratively. His sense of color and composition was my immediate attraction to study under him.

Your work has been displayed in a number of literary magazines, including Ibbetson Street. There is a real intersection of poetry and your art. Can you talk about that?

My art is inspired from personal emotional memories, both good and lamenting. Like my poetry it defines impressions of what was, what might have been, and is. This is either captured though being descriptive and narrative, or conceptual with a sense of romantic whimsy or melancholy. My smaller mix media pieces are notations of ideas for larger conceptual ones.

Any parting shots?

I would like to end by expressing my gratitude for the opportunity to exhibit at the Inside Out Gallery, hosted by the Somerville Arts Council.

SAC creates many opportunities for local and visiting artists to receive recognition. The Inside Out Gallery is a main stay for artist to receive recognition by the Somerville community.