Saturday, October 15, 2022

Red Letter Poem #131

 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.


                                                                                                          – SteveRatiner




Red Letter Poem #131




It is, perhaps, too easy a metaphor to say that Martha Collins is a miner – but that doesn’t mean it’s not apt.  I don’t think I know of another lyric poet today who is so dogged a researcher; and once she senses that there is some rich vein, some subterranean knowledge beyond her immediate perception, it seems that nothing can block her efforts to unearth it, relying on a fierce spirit and keen-eyed intelligence to go deep.  She’s become quite well known for her elliptical style, her fragmentation of syntax and the narrative flow, but it is always in service of a more nuanced understanding – first her own, and then any reader who is willing to go exploring along with her.  In ten acclaimed volumes of poetry, she’s focused her sights on some of the most consequential social and historical dilemmas our country has faced – including her award-winning trilogy about racial conflict in America.  But this very week, her eleventh collection has been published in the Pitt Poetry Series – and in these poems, the story of coal and coal mining takes center stage, both as an historical thread in the evolution of modern American society, and as an icon for the processes by which poor people have had their lives commodified and abused in the service of power and wealth. 


But this is no academic curiosity on her part; she begins the book with her paternal grandfather’s experience in the 19th century mines of Illinois, touching on family stories and artifacts, trying to memorialize a half-forgotten experience.  Then the poems broaden their view to include, not only industrial mining, but the racial strife and rampant gun violence we suffer today – all of which she takes as symptoms of a willful blindness we are both the victim of and, sadly, complicit with.  When I read pieces like her long poem “Lamentations”, or today’s featured lyric “And the Revolution We Call the”, it seems to me Martha is portraying a mind struggling to make sense; it plunges ahead, retreats, feints left or right, doubles back on itself, reaching for a clarity just beyond the capability of ordinary speech.  But in their brokenness, her poems in the end cohere as a human document: they declare that there are layers of truth beneath the very ground we walk upon – and a poem can be sharp enough an auger to locate, excavate, and (shifting the spelling to let augury come into play) reassemble the fragments into what we need to have revealed.  


Poet, translator, educator, anthologist, Martha has been the recipient of numerous honors including the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, three Pushcart Prizes, the Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award, and the Laurence Goldstein Poetry Prize.  Her writing has earned her fellowships from the NEA, the Bunting Institute, the Ingram Merrill Foundation, and the Witter Bynner Foundation.  Blue Front, a book-length poem based on a lynching the poet’s father witnessed as a child, was chosen as one of “25 Books to Remember from 2006” by the New York Public Library.  The depths this poet is willing to excavate, and the dangerous freight carried within her poems, certainly make her one of America’s indispensable talents.




And the Revolution We Call the



coal to power steam engines

to pump water & lift coal

to sell or use to power steam


coal to coke for furnaces

to smelt iron to make tools

& furnaces to smelt for rails


trains to transport coal to power

steam engines to power trains

& boats to transport coal


harnessed the power of

raised to the power

of power



                            ––Martha Collins




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Thursday, October 13, 2022

Annapurna Poems Poems New and Collected By Yuyutsu Sharma


Annapurna Poems

Poems New and Collected

By Yuyutsu Sharma

Nirala Publications

New Delhi, India

ISBN: 81-8250-092-3

128 Pages


Review by Dennis Daly


Are poets good for nothing? Plato certainly didn’t trust them. He believed that poets make things happen, but they are immoral, specializing in the pleasure of illusion and falsity. Mimesis (imitation), poetry’s stock in trade, moreover, corrupts society’s youth. For Plato philosophy (truth-telling), rather than poetry is the real deal. On the other end of the spectrum Archibald MacLeish, taking his cue from Aristotle, argues in his Ars Poetica that “A poem should not mean/ But be.” He believed in the aesthetic value above all, art for art’s sake.


Between these two extremes of active ethical change and passive aesthetic stasis there is a third possibility—poets, through poetry, guide their readers to rarified perceptions of existing phenomena and, through them, unlimited, sometimes prototypical, potentialities.


Yuyutsu Sharma utilizes his classic collection entitled Annapurna Poems to usher, in true Sherpa fashion, presumably well-equipped readers onto the top of the world and then, while transmuting that majesty, to awe them with the elegant sights and sounds found there. The poet with a sheath of breathtaking and magnificently stark images reworks the utopian vision of the fictionalized Shangri-La into a vivid real-world haven of inspired exotica in horizontally challenging thin air.


Annapurna is among the highest and deadliest (to climb) mountains in the world and part of the Annapurna mountain-range located in the Himalayas. Sharma’s opening poem, In the Mountains, anticipates the oversized nature of this setting. Here is the heart of the poem,


From the balcony

of a clay plastered hut I see

a Sun rise in the clear sky of my life.

This is where last spring

a rainbow appeared

and seconds later

a Sun set at the same spot.

A huge Sun-sized moon

crept from behind the mountain

and lingered like a cherry-faced child

peering over the courtyard of the Annapurnas,

this gorge of the River Modi.


Love in the Himalayas is like love everywhere, but more so in Sharma’s poem Snow. The gods seem closer. The flowers more stark, more attentive. And birdsong omnipresent. The poet wonderfully clothes the sensual with perceptive and secretive imagery. Let your imagination lock onto these lines,


A blue magpie flashed past our vision,

in its wings drops of joy

from our new found world.

Sunflowers lifted their heads up

To make out the meaning of our mirth

in the dark Shangri-La balcony.

The news of our love spread

in the valley of gods like

song of the laughing thrush,

chattering magpie’s trick.

The snow peaks we imagined

from the sanctuary of our naked bodies,

Little Paradise Lodge atop Kimrong Khola

hot springs down below

in the crotch of the green glades—

all hidden beneath a blanket of the Monsoons.

Our minds mingled, our mouths met,

our eyes shared a sight of what

the Rains had veiled from our sight.


My favorite poem in this collection is a short one. Sharma entitled it Christ’s Cross. The imagistic preciseness of the piece stuns. Struggling under her burden, a Nepalese woman climbs the mountain path to her village. Like the passion of the Christ under his cross or Sisyphus from Greek mythology the drama drives a deepening empathy as the reader understands the angular distance and repetition involved. In an area noted for its mule paths here is an elderly woman doing what is necessary to survive. Over and over. It’s worth quoting the poem in its entirety. Consider,


Two sacks

of rice



on a fragile-boned


Grandma’s back

moving ahead


like a big wounded

beetle on a feverish slope


of Ulleri’s

steepest climb.


“Because it’s there,” uttered George Leigh Mallory as a justification of his ill-fated 1924 expedition and final assault of Mount Everest. Whether he made it to the summit remains a mystery. But man’s unquenchable need to meet near impossible challenges and conquer them could not be clearer. In his piece entitled Summit Sharma touches on other conjoined, sometimes contrasting, objectives, and, unquestionably, more natural truths. He expresses them this way in his opening lines,


‘Truth left behind,

In the fragrant villages and world’

I said to myself

after I climbed

the summit, weary and breathless,

wind whipping my eyes,

head giddy

from the inconceivable heights.

I bowed in awe

and positioned a primrose

on my Maya’s

snowy chest. She smiled

at the folly of it all—

empty looks, childish arrogance,

the blank stretch of

endless snow spaces,

and nothing beyond.


Juxtaposing foreign adventurers, who gained fame and sometimes untimely deaths in the high Himalayas, with the divine overlords of that region begs more than a few questions. Sharma, in his piece Eternal Snow: An Epilog, suggests more than a few red lines were crossed by these often valiant, but ignorant, colonialists. These are the telling lines,


In naming, renaming or de-naming

the house of the Lord’s soul, Devatatama,

they drew diagrams, sketched,

dreamt over her staggering heights,

raised questions—colonial, carnival,

existential and extra-territorial — ‘Because it’s there’

They endorsed a cause, carried long knives, oxygen, eggs,

Tea, telephones, sirdars and frozen spaghetti.

Did they bleed in the snow, lost limbs and lives

Goddess of the winds of the world

for victory that wasn’t theirs?

Did they bow down in humility

before her crotch, at Cho Oya,

Gorek Shep or Kala Pathar?

Did they remember their loved ones

in the last drowse of their dream’s dairy—

Francis, Younghusband, Mallory,

Bullock, Bruce, Nothern, Somervil, Irving, Hillary?

Was it their karma journeys to the gates of Paradise  


Paradise or potentialities, Sharma’s poetics, from the land of mysterious yetis, wilderness shamans, and mountain teahouses, deliver.

Sunday, October 09, 2022

What Moments Yield: A poetry collection by Somerville artist Bridget Seley Galway


 What Moments Yield

A poetry collection by Bridget Seley Galway

Reviewed by Susan Isla Tepper

There are past moments that are remembered with pin-point accuracy by those who were involved. And there are others who prefer to bundle away the past into a sealed, locked container, to never see the light of day.

The writer makes a choice.

Poet, painter, writer Bridget Seley Galway is one of the most transparent of artists that I’ve come across. I doubt she could push away her past memories any more than she could push away an invading tank. Her interest in this personal exploration is what makes her tick, and power on, as an artist.

Under one roof (or perhaps no roof), What Moments Yield is an intriguing collection of poems breathing new life: Dear Stranger begins:

Dear Stranger: “If you should happen upon these words, / know I have lived in many daydream moments / with thoughts of you. / This will be our meeting. / What has seemed to be a vast space between us, / is the illusion of our seeming singularity. / My thoughts wonder how it is with you / when I see you walking, / sometimes peering out a window / as I do, / or just the window’s essence of you / through curtains, flower boxes, / night’s amber light or darkness. /… /” (cont).

This is alive poetry by a poet who can absorb every sensory element that crosses her path and those that made up her past. Some poets present the dead/death somewhat stiffly, as I suppose they visualize their past; freeze-framed rather than motion. Something perhaps to be cast in bronze like people used to with baby shoes. For Galway it’s a singularly different process, a kind of balancing act between her sincere wish to engage with the world through her art, and a little sprinkle of worry that perhaps she’s not getting through. She always gets through. I also feel it’s good for an artist to be just a little worried (just a little) to keep everything on balance.

In her poem titled Here, Galway refreshes a memory into a cherished moment.


Here I recollect you, / in stillness, in a sudden soft breeze, I inhale. / Here / you are the bird / that choreographs the sky, / to wires, / like a note you pose / underlining bright blue possibilities / you left to shine. / Always here, / I look up to you, / in the arrest of the changing light / where clouds adjust the space between us.”

Peppered throughout this book are stunning surreal black and white paintings and drawings by Bridget Seley Galway that illuminate her words and unique thought processes. When I want to know more about a writer, I know I’ve hit on really something good.

the book can be ordered at