Friday, October 28, 2022

Red Letter Poem #133

 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 #133





“The Way that can be told in words is not the true Way.”  So begins (paradoxically) Lao Tsu’s seminal Taoist text, Tao Te Ching – penned six centuries before (what a Christian scholar might refer to as) ‘the Common Era.’  In Judaism, Adonai or Hashem are not the true (and unknowable) names of God – they are placeholders marking an entry point into mystery.  It is, in fact, a common element in many mystical traditions: that what one sees directly may not represent the essential spirit of the matter; and perhaps, looking away, some ineffable hint of knowing begins to take hold. 


Jack Stewart is a talented poet with a keen interest in stories, both ancient and modern, religious and secular. His poems often begin with a received narrative – whether Biblical, artistic, historical, or personal; but he only indirectly explores this subject matter, trying to find out instead something about what the story has left out, obscured, or could never  grasp in the first place.  But even in his poems with overtly religious themes, he has little interest in arriving at easy formulations or established truths.  If there is anything doctrinal in his writing, it appears to be his faith in clear images as a window into both the surrounding landscape and the mind’s enigmatic terrain.  But, of course, the pleasure lies in the journey, not the arrival – and in poems like today’s installment, the poet clearly situates us within his scene and, at the same time, prompts us to long for what is quietly felt as absence or (though the term is over-used) the possibility of transcendence.


Jack published his first collection in 2020 -- No Reason, from the Poeima Poetry Series.  He’s had work appear in fine journals like Poetry, Iowa Review, and New York Quarterly – but also appeared in places where you might not expect a poet to venture: the Journal of the American Medical Association, Military Experience and the Arts, and The Perch (Yale Program for Recovery and Mental Health) – all signs of a peripatetic intelligence uneasy with boundaries.  Educated at the University of Alabama and Emory University, he became a Brittain Fellow at The Georgia Institute of Technology.  He now directs the Talented Writers Program at Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale.  Of course, these biographical details are easily blown aside to be replaced by the clear-eyed observations and subtle musicality within his “Eclipse” – something I trust will be worth remembering in the end.




Eclipse: What You See When You Look Away



The rocks along the shoreline

sun themselves like gray crabs.

The thin sheets of ice that held them

down last winter,

that broke when stepped on,

are gone. The waves imitate

the see-saw of breathing.


Sometime between one and one thirty,

the sun will deepen into

a knot of wood round and dark

as an oracle. At that moment,

the light we have no color for

will still, and I can almost forget

the faces I wish I could touch again.


Down the beach, a small gray moth

of people might gather,

not looking up at what we are told

would be dangerous to see. Another age

might call that holy, something you want

to but can’t see. Something that

cannot be named satisfactorily.


Tonight, everyone will tell

how they were witnesses

to something they were turned away from.

Yellow lights dot the hills above

the beach. Inside, people pass plates,

knowing how rare it is to encounter

anything worth remembering.



                            ––Jack Stewart





The Red Letters 3.0


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Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Poetry Reading Nov. 9 Lee Varon and David Miller


Poetry Reading

November 9, 2022
First Church Congregational (Stone Church just outside of Harvard Sq.)
11 Garden St, Cambridge, MA 02138

Lee Varon is a social worker and writer. She is the co-editor of "Spare Change News Poems: An Anthology by Homeless People and Those Touched by Homelessness." She has written several volumes of poetry, and her most recent book is an illustrated children's book for kids aged 7 - 12, "My Brother is Not a Monster: A Story of Addiction and Recovery."

David P. Miller's second book of poems, "Bend in the Stair," was published by Lily Poetry Review Books in 2021. A retired college librarian, David is a member of the New England Poetry Club Board of Directors. He lives in Jamaica Plain with his wife, the visual artist Jane Wiley.