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


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