Saturday, November 05, 2022

Red Letter Poem #134

 If you live in the Boston area, you’re invited to:


Red Letter Live!

A poetry reading for the Arlington Center for the Arts’

Open Studios Day –

Saturday, November 12th, 1-3 p.m.


featuring 5 of your favorite Red Letter poets

plus a special musical performance:



George Kalogeris


Christopher Jane Corkery


Charles Coe


Denise Bergman




& violinist

Elizabeth Burke



11/12/22 – 1-3 p.m.

Robbins Library

Community Room

700 Massachusetts Avenue, Arlington

Free and open to the public


For biographical material about the performers, see the attached PDF –

and for details about the entire Open Studios program, visit:




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 #134






Years ago, when I had the good fortune to interview one of America’s most esteemed poets, William Stafford, I took the opportunity to ask about several of my favorite poems.  I was wondering whether they were – as they’d appeared to me – all based on actual events.  Some were, it turns out – and others were cut from the whole cloth of deep imagination.  I remember being quite pleased, though, to learn that “Bess” was based on a real librarian who walked the streets of the poet’s Lake Oswego – but why should that be the case?  Wasn’t it enough that she, again and again, patrolled the streets of my consciousness?  Would knowing Bess had been flesh-and-blood make her somehow more substantial than the figure conjured by rhythmic syllables and with which Stafford had seized my heart? 


This memory came to mind when Charles Coe sent me a new prose poem about his father.  If I was a betting man, I’d wager that the incident depicted – in an Indiana town, a half-century ago – actually occurred.  But the truth of the situation exists here on the page – and in the rippling pages of my imagination – wholly separate from Charles’ family history.  I trust his voice; I experience this scene, almost as if I were standing right behind him in line at the drugstore.  And I find myself feeling like that lyrical son, looking back on a moment irretrievable except through the power of language.  These days, in the age of George Floyd (not to mention the countless other verifiable incidents), a poet does us a great service if he or she allows us to stand in someone else’s shoes for even a moment, to feel the truth of what goes on – whether or not it’s gone on in our own days, and whether or not the poet has captured or concocted that truth from one incident or a thousand from their personal experience.  The poem is a vehicle and we travel inside it to a destination we must, in the end, substantiate – from what the poem gives us, from the baggage we were carrying all along.


Charles Coe is a poet, prose writer, teacher of writing, and musician.  Born and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana, he’s made his home in the Boston area since 1975.  He published his third collection of verse, Memento Mori (Leapfrog Press) in 2019; he also authored Spin Cycles, a novella issued by Gemma Media.  Among his honors was a 2017 appointment as Artist-in-Residence for the city of Boston.  An adjunct professor of English at Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island, he teaches in their MFA program, helping students to achieve their own authenticity.  “We all know that Art is not truth,” wrote Pablo Picasso; “Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand.”  Charles’ poem helps me realize what my own days contain.  My bet is that it will do something similar for you as well.





I Wish I’d Held My Father’s Hand




My father put what he wanted to buy on the drugstore counter and said a polite “Good Afternoon” to the young white clerk, who didn’t return the greeting or meet his eye, just stared at the items a long moment, as if Father had dumped a bucket of kitchen scraps, and then with exquisite slowness that dripped contempt, began to ring them up.


It was just an ordinary day in Indiana in the early sixties. Everywhere a black man went he had to bite his tongue. Looking back over the years, I wish I could go back to that afternoon when my father stood quiet and still, as this young punk tried to put him in his place. I wish I could have caught his eye, delivered the silent message that I understood what he had to go through every day to keep the peace, to raise his family.


I wish I’d held my father’s hand.



                                                         ––Charles Coe





The Red Letters 3.0


* If you would like to receive these poems every Friday in your own in-box – or would like to write in with comments or submissions – send correspondence to:



To learn more about the origins of the Red Letter Project, check out an essay I wrote for Arrowsmith Magazine:


Two of our partner sites will continue re-posting each Red Letter weekly: the YourArlington news blog



and the Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene


For updates and announcements about Red Letter projects and poetry readings, please follow me on Twitter          


The New England Poetry Club Announces: Grants for Individual Poetic Achievement : Enzo Silon Surin and Sarah Audsley


The New England Poetry Club is pleased to announce the recipients of its Grants for Individual Poetic Achievement: Sarah Audsley and Enzo Silon Surin. Members of the New England Poetry Club’s board served as judges. With this new grants program, the NEPC aims to amplify and encourage the work of Black and BIPOC poets as it continues to build a vibrant community through poetry.

Congratulations to the award-winners. Each will receive $3000 in recognition of their artistry and literary citizenship.

Sarah Audsley is a Korean American adoptee raised in rural Vermont whose work has appeared in The New England Review, The Cortland Review, Four Way Review, The Massachusetts Review, Tupelo Quarterly, Pleiades, and elsewhere. Her recognitions include a 2022 Emerging Artist Award in Literature from Saint Botolph Club Foundation; support from the Vermont Studio Center and the Banff Centre’s Writing Studio; a Creation Grant from the Vermont Arts Council; and The Rona Jaffe Foundation Creative Writing Graduate Fellowship at the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. A member of The Starlings Collective and a graduate of Warren Wilson College’s MFA Program, she lives and works in Johnson, Vermont. LANDLOCK X, her debut poetry collection, is forthcoming from Texas Review Press in spring 2023.

Enzo Silon Surin is a Haitian-born poet, librettist, educator, publisher, and social advocate. He is the author of three collections of poetry, including When My Body Was A Clinched Fist (Black Lawrence Press, 2020), winner of the 21st Annual Massachusetts Book Awards for Poetry, and the forthcoming American Scapegoat (Black Lawrence Press, spring 2023). Surin’s work has been featured in numerous publications including by the Poetry Foundation, and in the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Da. He is co-editor of Where We Stand: Poems of Black Resilience (Cherry Castle Publishing, 2022), and the recipient of a Brother Thomas Fellowship from the Boston Foundation, a PEN New England Discovery Award, and a 2020 Denis Diderot Grant as an Artist-in-Residence at Chateau d’Orquevaux, France.  

Thursday, November 03, 2022

The Tree Stand by Jay Atkinson

Jay Atkinson

The Tree Stand by Jay Atkinson, Livingston Press, Alabama, 2022, 318 pages. $19.95.

Review by Ed Meek

Jay Atkinson is the author of two novels, a short story collection and five nonfiction books. He received Massachusetts Book Award Honors for Massacre on the Merrimack, a compelling tale of a vicious Abenaki attack in 1697 that killed twenty-seven men, women and children. But when captives are taken, they plot and carry out revenge on their captors. It’s an illuminative well-researched book about a murky period in our local history. The Tree Stand is a collection of seven short stories set in the present. On the surface, the two books don’t have much in common but there are some carryovers and both are well-worth reading.

The stories in The Tree Stand are all set in an area in northern Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire. All of the stories are long and well-developed. Some are novella length. So, instead of a slice of life “seen glancingly from the side” as Emma Donohue said of the short story, Atkinson’s stories have a continuing sense of time as novels usually do. Nonetheless, they do have “a single mood,” as Poe put it. Like Rick Bass, Thomas McGuane, and Ray Carver, Atkinson writes from the point of view of hard-scrabble characters from the working class: firefighters, builders, rugby players, small farmers, and local musicians. Quite a bit of time is spent in bars. As in Massacre on the Merrimack, bad things sometimes happen to unsuspecting characters. Nearly everyone in these stories works really hard. They are sometimes sustained by friends and strangers who do them a good turn, and other times by nature, or the skills they have developed. When life is going well for these folks, they are part of a community that lifts them up, but in Atkinson’s world you just never know when something terrible might happen: a car accident, a fall out of a burning house, a cancer diagnosis.

In the title story, a down and out carpenter who can’t find work is dumped by his wife who is probably sleeping with her boss. He needs to sell his half-finished house at a loss in order to move on. He takes his bow and sets out to hunt deer out of necessity. When he strikes his prey “satisfaction lay in the fact that, despite his troubles of late, Goody now had enough venison to last out the winter…at least that was something.” In this and other stories, Atkinson immerses us in the actions of his character so it feels as if we are there in the woods.

“Bergeron Framing and Remodeling,” is an over-the-top story about a hard-working and partying crew of brothers (with help from their old man) who build for twelve hours a day during the week and then buzz through half a dozen grams of coke, get drunk and have sex until Monday morning when it starts all over again. They’re forced to work double time when the youngest brother discovers he’s not impervious to illness. A similar situation occurs in “Lowell Boulevard,” a story of firefighters who are EMTs dealing with horrific accidents, when an unexpected tragedy derails a team of best friends. Yet when a widow can’t afford to pay an ambulance bill, the fire department administrator writes it off. The main character, Glenn, realizes how lucky he is to marry the woman he loves and face a bright future of “healthy, athletic children … a house he would build with his own hands.” Reading these stories, those of us who survive and thrive today realize how lucky we are.

Hi-Pine Acres” is written from the point of view of an older woman who lives with her son on a small farm in southern New Hampshire. She’s the one who does all the work but she isn’t getting any younger. When a realtor makes an offer to split up the farm, she’s faced with a dilemma. In this and other stories, Atkinson knows the language of his subject. Here he describes Katherine’s container truck.

The interior of the truck smelled of moldy hay and livestock; she swept out the tick that littered the floor, walked back to the cowshed, and rolled out a pair of sloshing, ten- gallon milk cans. Manhandling them onto a dolly, she ran them up the ramp, secured them with bungee cords, and then went back to the shed where earlier that morning, after the milking when it was still dark, she had tied up a week-old calf.

In two other upbeat stories, Atkinson gives us a humorous insider’s view of a rugby team and a seat in the audience of a local bar with talented live acts and friendships formed over years that reward the main character when she needs a place to stay and a band to play with.

The long story format takes a little getting used to in our current era of immediate gratification but the effort is well worth it. “The Tree Stand” is a setting that allows the character in the title story, Goody, to sit still from a blind, observe and wait to strike with his bow. Like Goody, Jay Atkinson hits his mark.