Saturday, November 19, 2022

Red Letter Poem #136

 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 #136





"It's a beautiful day for a ballgame.  Let's play two!"


      Ernie Banks,

Hall of Fame shortstop, the Chicago Cubs



Now that we’ve just emerged from two of America’s tumultuous cultural rituals – baseball’s World Series, and our electoral trial by fire – I thought it a perfect time to invite poet E. Ethelbert Miller to reframe the conversation with work from his new collection How I Found Love Behind the Catcher’s Mask (City Point Press).  It’s the third volume in a trilogy that uses baseball as a window into the American landscape of the 20th century and our nascent 21st.  But this is no simple homage to the sport he loves and its famed practitioners; it’s a deep examination of the psychic forces that help make us American or, in other cases, attempt to unmake us.  And, in Ethelbert’s mind, baseball is inextricably braided with jazz, poetry, race relations, and our often-thwarted hunger for love, for a sense of belonging.  Taken all together, he’s now created a magnificent sequence of over 150 poems where the language of baseball – it’s diction, mindset, rich history – become a springboard for the poet to examine the odyssey of his own life and that of his contemporaries (though Odysseus, now that I think of it, would have a hell of a time fielding pop flies while tied to his ship’s mast.)  The poems are rich in metaphor, redolent with baseball slang and lore; they offer us the long arc of memory, as thrilling as any homerun swing. 


Following Ernie’s dictum, here’s a doubleheader of short poems from Ethelbert’s collection.  I love the way disparate trains of thought interweave in his work, one context throwing light upon the other.  But listen, as well, to the rhythmic invention running through his poems – the litany of we’s in the first piece, standing perhaps against the wave of divisiveness we’ve been suffering in recent times.  And my heart fluttered just a bit (like trumpet keys? like a knuckleball?) with that closing cascade of d’s in the Ellington piece, eye and ear equally engaged.


It would be impossible to fit all of Ethelbert’s stats and honors within this baseball card-sized introduction.  So let me simply say he’s a poet, teacher, and self-appointed ‘literary activist’ based in Washington D.C. (though the mayor of Baltimore made him an honorary citizen – hoping, perhaps, he might wear two insignias on his cap when he’s finally inducted into the poet’s Hall of Fame.)  He’s the author of numerous poetry collections, a pair of stirring memoirs, and is the editor of two anthologies including the seminal In Search of Color Everywhere – “a chronicle of the African-American experience and the making of America.”  Since 1974, he’s served as director of the African American Studies Resource Center at Howard University; he’s also the editor of Poet Lore, the oldest continuously-published literary journal in America that once featured the likes of Rilke, Verlaine, and Emma Lazarus in its pages.  And if you’ll permit me to go into extra innings, I found out just now that Ethelbert was nominated for a 2023 Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album – and if that doesn’t deserve an exclamation point (that little baseball bat balanced atop a ball), I don’t know what does!  Now, if the poet can only handle the curve. . .



Trapped Inside the Glove:

The American Pitch


We almost took a hard fast one to the head.

We stumbled out of voting booths as if we had seen a curve.

We avoided the sliders as if they were lies.

We knew what cutters did to our rights.

We lived with the crazy knuckleballs of history.

We kept swinging at the flutter, the rotation of freedom.




Sophisticated Lady


Why did Ellington say music was his mistress

and not baseball?


Somewhere between swing and bebop

Satchel Paige took the mound.


Fingering the keys is as beautiful

as fingering the ball.


Cool Papa Bell believed he was cooler than jazz.

Turn out the lights and grab the bass by the bed.


Did Dizzy Dean ever wear a beret?

Dizzy did.



                                    ––E. Ethelbert Miller




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          


Friday, November 18, 2022

Local Voices, Local Choices: The Tacare Approach to Community-Led Conservation

Local Voices, Local Choices:

The Tacare Approach to Community-Led Conservation

Created by the Jane Goodall Institute

Book Review by
Deborah Leipziger

November, 2022

In my lectures and conversations, I am often asked for signs of hope in the face of the global challenges and devastation of our time. Dr. Jane Goodall’s work in over 100 villages in several African countries gives me hope. Dr. Goodall, as she has done her entire career, also opens up new paradigms for thinking about the changes we need to make and embody. Jane Goodall’s new book about her conservation efforts in Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi and other parts of Africa contains a blueprint for hope. The Tacare Project brilliantly envisions conservation which protects people, environment, and animals. The Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) combines design thinking with geographic data, such as maps and aerial images to foster conservation efforts. By addressing all aspects of geography— from cultural, biological, and physical aspects – JGI promotes the needs of people, ecosystems, and animals.

For too long environmental and development efforts have ignored the interconnectedness of people and ecosystems. Jane Goodall is a boundary spanner – she weaves together many worlds – promoting literacy, livelihoods, and health to strengthen communities so that people and animals can coexist. Jane and her team address the root causes of poverty that often lead to environmental degradation: lack of opportunity and lack of education. The Institute promotes women by providing microcredit, scholarships for girls, and family planning. In her work, she encourages us to consider ways in which we can become boundary spanners.

In Local Voices, Local Choice, Jane and her team at the Jane Goodall Institute provide a vision for conservation work – and powerful new language and ideas. Tacare means to “take care” but is also an acronym for the Lake Tanganyka Catchment Reforestation and Education Program. Jane and her team realized that most chimpanzees do not live in the protected forests, but rather in the woods around the villages. Therefore, their survival depends entirely on cooperating with villages. The Jane Goodall Institute has helped to create green corridors which allow the chimpanzees to move freely between areas. Without these corridors providing contiguous access to forests, chimpanzees cannot breed and survive.

This remarkable book contains stunning illustrations of community members amidst their conservation efforts, showing us the intersections of geography, ecology, science, technology, and society.

Geospatial mapping provides a critical component of the Tacare Project. With support from USAID, the Institute has trained volunteers from the villages to monitor phone data sent to the Cloud which is then monitored by the JGI team. Villagers are part of the mapping efforts. Community mapping identifies the relationships, needs, and resources so that conservation is a collective process. By combining Geographic Information Systems (GIS) with community mapping, and local knowledge and culture, the Tacare Project creates models for how to conserve our future.

The Tacare Project inspires me to hope and offers so many lessons to emulate. How can we integrate people and planet in new ways? How can we deploy technology to address basic needs and create social impact?



Deborah Leipziger is an author, sustainability advisor, lecturer, and poet. Her books have been translated into Portuguese, Chinese and Korean. Born in Brazil, Deborah is a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Social Innovation at Babson. She advises companies, governments, and UN agencies on issues relating to human rights and sustainability. Her poetry book Story & Bone is forthcoming from Lily Poetry Review Books in January 2023.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

This Close Poems by Karen Klein


This Close

Poems by Karen Klein

Ibbetson Street Press, 2022

Review - Marcus Breen

Hilary Mantel the late, brilliant English writer who novelized the life of Thomas Cromwell, King Henry VIII and his six English wives in the trilogy, Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies, The Mirror and the Light, said in 2020 that she could not have written the way she did when she was young, because “experience weighs heavy.” In other words, there is a point in life when it becomes possible to write knowledgably about the psychosocial aspects of human existence. In loftier terms, drawing on psychoanalytic categories, pieces of meaning about life fall somewhat together as age gives its unique perspective. This is not to say that young people cannot write. Rather, it is to say that wisdom is an affordance that emerges with age. Ask any sage.

Which brings me to Karen Klein’s first book of poems, This Close. In her 80s, Klein brings the reflective wisdom of age to her poetry. It is revealed in an infatuation with the process of unpacking her life. As she noted before a reading in Newton, Massachusetts, on 13 September 2022, her poems are about “romance and its difficulties,” “relationship difficulties.” As an octogenarian, unpacking anything from the messy world of one’s social life involves some risk taking in the disclosures that unfold, as the writer engages in a targeted form of self-exploration, with an important caveat: the writer must have the poetic capacity to convey life’s difficulties. Klein reveals that capacity, in this, her first book of poetry.

Because Klein’s poems are offered from her position as an older or aged person, her poems add to human knowledge drawn from a lifetime of observation about the difficulties of being human. The willingness of her poems wanders into the fraught feelings of life in the social relations she had and expects to continue. It’s a book of the history of memory, recollected as encounters underpinned with the good fortune that allows her to be at the age she is and still writing.

The collection is separated into five sections of poems of different lengths, all following a relatively free verse form. Section one, the curvature of a line consists of two poems, the first in the book “Journal 2017: Bilbao,” places the reader in relation to the sense of history-memory, rediscovered by an association through architecture and movement. This one, the swinging bridge in Bilbao, Spain returns the poet to memories of swinging, to create for the child, “the excitement of reaching.” The following poem “Takeoff,” continues the idea of the trajectory from childhood, a concept rich in psychoanalytical resonances, especially when it is connected with art such as the Brancusi bird sculpture Klein saw with she visited MoMA for the first time as a 17 year old.

see the sculpture

—my breath catches itself—

the free curvature of our bodies

without an image of the body

the desired roundness of flesh


in the curvature of a line.

The following sections are: skin/has its own/vocabulary, use words to find my tribe, They won’t come back next year, and road to nowhere/and everywhere.

The coming of age theme is to be expected in a first book of poems, as the pent up words of dozens of years emerge, as if in liberation after much gestation.

Of particular note in this respect is the poem for the artist Georgia O’Keefe, where Klein, digging way back into the era where correct language for a woman meant no profanity, explains the sensation when using the word “cunt” for the first time, to refer to her own private body. In “Black Iris,” ostensibly a poem about flowers, the effect is that O’Keefe’s flower is translated into a sensibility about Klein’s body.

walked out of the Metropolitan Museum

walked naked to myself

recognized my body in the flower

the iris intimately in me

knew I could say cunt

knew it was good

When Klein read this poem at the Newton reading mentioned above, the atmosphere was electric, even after she had “warned” the audience that the word, often associated with gutter vulgarity, was part of her vocabulary of self discovery. It further signifies the long journey of the coming of age, remembered as thoroughly intimate, not only in this poem but in many of the poems. Furthermore, it points to the feminist heritage she draws on in the liberation of her language that accompanies her maturity, in her 80 plus years.

As well as moving into published poetry, Karen Klein is also known as a dancer and artist around Boston, and her poems reference works of art, such as visual arts, other writers and my favorite, music.

“Hearing the Borromeo Quartet Play Beethoven’s Heiliger Dankgesang,” attempts to take the rhapsodic power on Beethoven’s sonic genius to the poem. Klein gives the music its character, and by the third section the music is palpable:

III. Finally, the melodic phase.

This time the first violin—its timbre firm,

Beethoven after his near-fatal illness,

the composition a product of recovery.

But this is no “holy song of thanks.”

The certitude he brought back

becomes an urgent plea

that when the Dark Angel closes in,

his wings will obliterate fear,

his embrace be compassionate.

Can you hear it? It’s a plea to listen closely, to hear the wings of death while acknowledging the power of the words to sweep up the listener/reader. As a poem it illustrates the many examples Klein offers in this collection, to make sense of life through creativity, as well as the inevitability of death through art.

Old age is a difficult concept, generally disrespected in society today, where young entrepreneurs are presented by the media as god-like figures. In contrast, these poems indicate the power of remembering life in poetry, circulating to humanize readers, reminding us of our shared humanity, even with all of our diverse personal experiences, while they further remind us of the profoundity of the privilege of experience discovered among the survivors. The poems “Tribal Tongues,” “Raspberry Patch,” and “Shower,” serve as humbling reminders of Klein’s Jewish heritage and that not everyone of her family got out from under the antisemitic death heal of fascists in Europe. No wonder, they “weigh heavy,” as Hilary Mantel said, because the challenges of wisely reflecting on life, relationships, art, love, and survival, are not lightweight matters.

One final comment about the writing history that informs this collection. Klein includes several pages at the conclusion of the book to thank the people in a variety of creative communities, who supported her development as a poet. It is a generous and welcome gesture, as well as a reminder that we are not alone, that poets are poets because they are fundamentally drawn to communicate with other humans using this ancient form. As Karen Klein shows in this wonderful first collection, remembering our collective lives depends on each other.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Somerville’s Creative Writers on Writing from Place


Somerville’s Creative Writers on Writing from Place

 By Off the Shelf Correspondent Rachel Ranie Taube

What does it mean to write from Somerville? To find out, I asked writers associated with our city three questions: How does living here influence your writing practice? What does it mean to write from this place? And what do other Somerville writers need to know?

A dozen writers replied to my call for interviews, and participants included present and past Somerville Poets Laureate Lloyd Schwartz and Gloria Mindock; award-winning novelists Daphne Kalotay and Elizabeth McCracken; as well as a number of emerging writers. They talked about the unique privilege and responsibility of writing from Somerville, shared writing advice, and offered plenty of recommendations for local writers’ haunts, groups, and programming.

Many specifically talked about the possibilities of writing about Somerville itself:

To write from—not simply in—any place requires some significant knowledge and connection. Cities have many layers and corners; it’s helpful to visit and understand as many as you can. Longevity in a place can bring about this familiarity, but so can delving into it—walk around, talk to people, look and listen… Personally, I think it would be difficult not to write here in Somerville. My first book, Curious Peach, follows the cycle of the seasons. But it’s about the fringe and remnants of nature in this heavily paved and built-up city.

—Denise Provost (poet)

Somerville is lively, dense, with a weird history and more artists per square mile than anywhere. You will feel right at home... Just know that everything in Somerville has been written about at least once if not twice, but not from your perch.

—Gary Duehr (artist and critic)

I feel like I know the most about Somerville through the people I know who have always known it, in all its incarnations. I tried to set a novel in Somerville a while ago, but I couldn’t do it justice. In the end I had to make up a city because I couldn't make Somerville obey the rules of fiction.

—Elizabeth McCracken (novelist)

An experience I had here is the subject of my poem “Jerry Garcia in a Somerville Parking Lot,” in which that classic Somerville experience makes me conclude “how little it takes to restore [my] affection for the city.” The incredible diversity of Somerville and the community of poets here are consistent inspirations.

—Lloyd Schwartz (poet)

In fact, many interviewees commented on that community. Gloria Mindock said, “Somerville has more artists and writers than I have ever encountered in other cities [and s]o many writers in Somerville and the surrounding area have books out published by presses here… I could not imagine living any place else.”

[I] have long associated Somerville with creativity. One of my fondest memories is of a reading/performance a writer friend put on in a little building here that was so packed, some of us ended up standing on the sidewalk and watching through the open window. That to me summarizes the energy, enthusiasm, and support of the creative community here.

I take my inspiration from the streets and houses, have written about my neighborhood and the vast, extreme changes that this area has undergone…. To me, the best thing about Somerville is the opportunity for exchange with all sorts of people, from college and grad students half my age to longtime homeowners who have been here for generations… Inspiration is important, but so is feeling part of community, part of humanity.

—Daphne Kalotay (novelist)

So, how to connect with this writing community? Denise Provost suggests checking out the local presses Ibbetson Street Press (founded by Doug Holder, it publishes poetry and a nationally respected literary journal) and Červená Barva Press (founded by Gloria Mindock, it publishes fiction, poetry, and translation from around the world), and the public library’s listings of readings, book clubs, book launches, and other literary events.

One important source of support and connection, referenced by several of the interviewees, is the Somerville Arts Council, a local agency supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council. In fact, a literature grant from the Council made this interview project possible. A not-so-side note: The annual deadline is October 15th, and any artist living in Somerville can apply for funding for a public arts project—I highly encourage you to apply. Sign up for their listserv, too.

Many interviewees also got specific about the best places in town to write. Suggestions included Bloc Café (with several votes), Diesel Café, The Somerville Museum, The Arts at the Armory (with a lovely café as well as a slate of arts events), and of course the public libraries (check out their local history collections).

I cherish living somewhere that has a Brazilian market, a Korean and Japanese market, an African market, three other bodegas, a bougie donut shop, and a natural wine bar, all within a two-block radius. To write from here means to speak of an entirely small community, that feels so vast at the same time.

Grab paper and a pen. Diesel in Davis Square turns their wifi off on the weekends to discourage people from hunkering down at their laptops. Bloc Café is calmer during the week, but still bustling on the weekends. It’s much easier to take your coffee outside and your notebook with you when places are crowded. As a laptop writer this dynamic helps me write in a different, more present way.

—Madelyn Musick (poet)

Several people also commented on the rising cost of living in Somerville. Doug Holder said, “Somerville has vastly gentrified over the years, and many artists have had to vacate the city because of high rents, etc... I hope this will not change the sensibility of the city.” One anonymous submitter agreed, “We are getting pushed out of the city by rising rents and by those able to pay the rising rents. While you are here, be sure to give back to the community.”

How do they suggest you give back to the arts community? By supporting our local presses and buying local writers’ work (Červená Barva Press, for example, published a high school poetry anthology edited by Lloyd Schwartz); by “getting to know [your] neighbors” (Schwartz); by “volunteer[ing] with the Somerville Arts Council, Somerville Open Studios, and other local groups that continue to make Somerville an interesting place to live” (anonymous); and by making sure that, when you visit a café, you “buy food and drink—don’t just use free internet!” (Provost).

Somerville obviously offers inspiration and community aplenty, but still, the work is the writing. A local writer and editor had some parting advice:

There is no such thing as a perfect book. And the closer you get to finishing, the louder the voices in your head will become, telling you it’s no good, reminding you of a plot hole, or repeating a critique you got once that stung just a little too hard. The secret to finishing a book is to finish it. The rest can come later. I think that here in Somerville, I learned to be myself—I learned that I am good enough as I am. And that helps my writing every day.

—Amy Maranville (editor and children’s author)

You can read these interviews in full (or add your own submission) here:

Monday, November 14, 2022

Red Letter Poem #135


Red Letter Poem #135





It’s a phrase that’s always intrigued me: native tongue.  Of course, it simply refers to that earliest of languages we inherit: from our mother’s morning table talk with her sister, perhaps, while our own little mouth was awash with milk.  Or from our father arguing sports and politics with his friends, our eager ears entranced by the give-and-take rhythms.  It’s that primary dialect which connects each of us to home, homeland and – as we only later discover – to the fog-wreathed province of the self.  I love how the term reminds us of the physicality of utterance: what the tongue is trained to do, writhing in the dark of the mouth’s cavern, shaping syllables.  And all the while, thought somehow manages to follow an invisible thread from the brain down to the throat and finally out into the shared world.  It’s this lingual practice that, as children, we took as almost an act of faith – yet something, perhaps we intuited, that might lead us out from the baffled labyrinth (what some of the grownups were calling the soul) and back into sunlight.


In so much of George Kalogeris’ writing, both the English and Greek tongues of his childhood experience interweave.  In today’s new poem, we meet once again a member of his family and discover how she helped imbue a young poet’s developing diction with the energy of two worlds, not to mention that most bittersweet of mysteries.  From the first time I read this piece, his description of that “tight little skein of vowels” threw open the doors of my own heart and gave voice to the complex familial inheritance I believe each of us carries, though we rarely stop to appreciate.  This poet certainly does – and the poem that results is heartbreakingly beautiful.  Poet, scholar, educator, and translator – recipient of the James Dickey Prize and the Meringoff Prize for Poetry – George is currently an Associate Professor at Suffolk University here in Boston.  Winthropos, (Louisiana State University) not only creates an Old World/New World mythology from his coastal Northshore town, it reminds us with dozens of utterly intriguing poems of the gift/burden of our own legacy (our shifting assessment influenced, I’m sure, by mood, weather, and the day of the week.)   He’s the sort of humanist thinker that reaffirms the intellectual endowment of ancient Peloponnesia as essential in both our cultural tradition and contemporary discourse.   


The Three Fates making an appearance in this poem (who also, according to myth, had a hand in creating the alphabet), convey one sort of knowledge about existence; but the poet’s Greek aunt provides a very different understanding about the preciousness – and fragility – inherent in what the heart claims and is claimed by.  Love, it becomes clear, is George’s native tongue.




Aunt Leuco and the Fates



“Our thread is cut like that.”  My loose translation

Gets the clipped expression, and even implies

The scissors-motion of fingers—but renders nothing


Remotely like the eerie sound of the Greek.

Just listen to how its tight little skein of vowels

Unspools: ée skeenée mas éenai léegee.


It’s what I heard, as a child, when my grandfather died.

Though I wasn’t allowed to the wake, or the funeral,

No open casket was ever more starkly real


Than the level way my aunt intoned, to none

Of us in particular, that scary line—

The one that said our thread is cut like that.


Let Clotho spin, Lachesis allot, and prompt

Atropos sever all she wants—for me

It’s terse Aunt Leuco, my mother’s youngest sister,


Keening ée skeenée mas éenai léegee.



                                    ––George Kalogeris




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