Saturday, December 17, 2022

Red Letter Poem #140


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 #140





“O Star of wonder, star of nightStar with royal beauty brightWestward leading, still proceedingGuide us to thy Perfect Light”



So goes the chorus of the 19th century Christmas carol “We Three Kings.”  For centuries, astronomers have combed through historical records hoping to find descriptions of what’s come to be called the Star of Bethlehem, trying to determine what cosmic event was being depicted.  Some theories hold that this celestial light – interestingly, of the four Gospels, only Matthew included it in his Nativity account – might have been a distant star going supernova.  A conjunction of planets could also be responsible for an unusually bright ‘star’ in the night skies.  Scientists today think it is more likely to have been a comet passing through our solar system and thus persisting for weeks – enough time to have served as an arrow for any wise travelers.  But what if it had only been a metaphorical star that the Apostle used to represent divine guidance – would that somehow be untrustworthy or inspire you less?


In Jack Stewart’s poem “Dead Star”, the woven fabric of narrative and belief take the starring role in his reimagining.  Using perhaps as a lever, he tries to pry open what we know (or think we know, or simply take as an act of faith) so we can examine our own relationship to the foundational Christian mythology.  If it could be proven that the fabled Star was really a comet – and thus a transitory object – would its guidance become suspect?  Or if it was a star that had died long ago – perhaps even before the birth of Jesus – and its light still persisted, traveling for millennia until it reached human eyes, is its illumination now altered in our minds, somehow diminished?   What if this ancient story – being passed along, from the mouth of its source to the ear of a listener, and then from ear to ear, heart to heart, in an unbroken chain – was just that, a story, with little historical fact to anchor it, would it have any less power to alter your path?  I like how Jack bolsters his own narrative thread with the sort of sense-impressions only a witness would possess.  It raises the question: how much faith do I place in what the poet reports to me – or the scientist, or the priest, or the shaman, or my own wandering mind?


Jack’s first collection, No Reason, appeared in the Poeima Poetry Series in 2020.  He’s had work in literary journals like Poetry, the New York Quarterly, and the Iowa Review, as well as less customary venues such as the Journal of the American Medical Association, and Military Experience and the Arts.  He studied at the University of Alabama and Emory University, and became a Brittain Fellow at The Georgia Institute of Technology.  He now teaches in Fort Lauderdale at the Pine Crest School where he directs the Talented Writers Program.  As we journey closer to the conjunction of the solstice and the mid-winter holidays of diverse religious traditions, I am pleased to share this new poem that asks us to rely, with just a bit more confidence, on where our own words are taking us.         




Dead Star



Because we now know when we see

A star that it might have died

Thousands of years before, become nothing

More than another black speck in the slow

Swirl of the universe, I have to wonder

If the shepherds and wise men saw something

That was already dead, or perhaps the moment

Of its exploding, when it burst into finality.

After all, it was a strange star and was never

Seen again. The sand and cold were lit

In an odd way for a single night, the wind

Blew with a different voice through the broken

Boards of the stable. Perhaps no one noticed

How the caravan’s campfires burned down

To their own blackness toward dawn, but

There would have been warmth in those ashes,

Even comfort in the smell of the dissipating

Smoke. There was likely a decent meal

For a family in rags. It is possible the star

No longer existed. Deserts stay brutally

Cold in winter, and petals of snow

Scatter themselves across the ground

For no celebration but their own.

But we also know palms in any weather

Hang their heads like children sleeping,

Cattle low to each other as darkness falls,

And stories can last much longer

Than anyone imagined at the time.



––Jack Stewart

Monday, December 12, 2022

Message From The New England Poetry Club

Dear Friends,

As mentioned in the December newsletter, NEPC member Chandler Camerato is planning a Zoom marathon reading of Bernadette Mayer’s collection: Midwinter Day.

If you’d like to participate and read a section of the book, please contact Chandler at this new address:

(NOTE, the previous address that was circulated does NOT work)

The reading will take place on December 22, 2022, beginning at 06:00 PM Eastern Time. All are invited to join us, whether you're reading or not!

Register in advance for the link:

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

More about Bernadette Mayer & Midwinter Day

Bernadette Mayer (May 12, 1945-November 22, 2022) was “an avant-garde writer associated with the New York School of poets. Born in Brooklyn, New York, Mayer had spent most of her life in New York City. Her collections of poetry include Midwinter Day (1982, 1999), A Bernadette Mayer Reader (1992), The Desire of Mothers to Please Others in Letters (1994), Another Smashed Pinecone (1998), Poetry State Forest (2008), and Works and Days (2016), which was a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist.

Known for her innovative use of language, Mayer first won critical acclaim for the exhibit Memory, which combined photography and narration. Mayer took one roll of film shot each day during July 1971, arranging the photographs and text in what Village Voice critic A.D. Coleman described as “a unique and deeply exciting document.”

Mayer’s poetry often challenges poetic conventions by experimenting with form and stream-of-consciousness; readers have compared her to Gertrude Stein, Dadaist writers, and James Joyce. Poet Fanny Howe commented in the American Poetry Review on Midwinter Day, a book-length poem written during a single day in Lenox, Massachusetts: “In a language made up of idiom and lyricism, Mayer cancels the boundaries between prose and poetry, … Her search for patterns woven out of small actions confirms the notion that seeing what is is a radical human gesture.” [Excerpted from]