Friday, November 05, 2021

Red Letter Project 83

 If you live in the Boston area:

Red Letter Live!

A poetry reading for the Arlington Center for the Arts

Open Studios Day

featuring 6 of your favorite Red Letter poets:


Fred Marchant


Martha Collins


Lloyd Schwartz


Teresa Cader


Enzo Silon Surin


Steven Ratiner


1-3 p.m.

Arlington Town Hall

730 Massachusetts Avenue, second floor

Free and open to the public


For further details about Red Letter LIVE! see the attached PDF –

and about the entire Open Studios program, visit:




The Red Letter Poem Project


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 #83



Oh!  First cousin to ah!  – and, I have to believe, a distant relation to that Sanskrit (and more spiritual) exclamation om!  All are preceded by a quiet in-rush of energy – as we allow the world to pry our eyes open just a bit, to delight the somnolent mind – followed by that drawn-out breath blossoming on the vowel sound.  As in: Oh…now I can see it!  Then: Ah…that’s so beautiful.  Or perhaps – when chaos threatens to overwhelm, or the emotional storm engulfs our day and needs to be quelled – a measured breath that fills and then empties us: om!


Fundamentally, Jane Hirshfield is a poet of praise.  That’s not to say there isn’t darkness, pain, moments of despair in her writing – after all, she’s a conscientious and clear-eyed observer of the world.  But across nine volumes of poetry, three collections of literary essays, award-winning translations, and a busy schedule as a speaker and educator, I believe this is the signature expression unifying them all: awe – a sense of delight in being.  And I’m not just referring to the experience of human being (with all its fragile beauty and ephemeral joy,) but the very nature of existence itself into which, upon birth, our consciousness is thrust.  Unlike many in the arts, her poetic mind is not sequestered from her sense of scientific inquiry, nor from her historical and anthropological curiosity.  It makes for imaginative expression that intentionally crosses boundaries.  (Where else but in Jane’s collections would you find the notation for orders of magnitude included in a poem!)  This is what she’s chosen as her subject matter: what is – that, and the whirlwind of the mind in pursuit of understanding, coupled with an appraisal of the heart when (as it so often happens) that pursuit leads us to the experience of loss.


When Jane gave the Red Letters permission to feature a poem from her new collection Ledger (Knopf, 2020) – appearing as RLP #63 – I asked if I might share, later on, an older poem that’s one of my favorites.  “First Light Edging Cirrus” is a mini-ontological treatise.  How, it wonders – in the midst of this material creation – does something as astonishing as consciousness erupt?  And how can we grasp – right now and even on a rudimentary level – the gorgeous complexity we so often take for granted?  I read this short poem every now and again, and find myself imagining for days that “face to face” moment, gazing out on the world.  For a split second there is an inkling of comprehension (oh!), a startling and satisfying clarity (ah!) before my rational mind barges back in to try explaining it all to me.  But it seems to me that the longer I can hold off that explanation, the happier I am.




First Light Edging Cirrus




1025 moleculesare enoughto call woodthrush or apple.

A hummingbird, fewer.A wristwatch: 1024.

An alphabet’s molecules,tasting of honey, iron, and salt,cannot be counted —

as some strings, untouched,sound when a near one is speaking.

As it was when love slipped inside you.It looked out face to face in every direction.

Then it was inside the tree, the rock, the cloud.



                              –– Jane Hirshfield