Thursday, July 13, 2023

Afaa Weaver Winner of the New England Poetry Club's Golden Rose Award


****At the Longfellow House in Cambridge, MA. poet Afaa Weaver will be the recipient of our New England Poetry Club's prestigious Golden Rose Award. Last year's winner was Patricia Smith.

Here is an interview I conducted with him in 2015

For more information about the award:

August 13, 3:00 PM | Poetry Reading: 2023 Golden Rose Award with Afaa M. Weaver

Afaa M. Weaver (formerly Michael S.Weaver) is the author of sixteen collections of poetry, several plays, and some short fiction. As a journalist in Baltimore, where he was born in 1951, Afaa wrote for the Baltimore Sun, the Baltimore Afro-American, and other papers. His awards include a Fulbright appointment, a Guggenheim fellowship, multiple Pushcarts, the PDI Award in playwriting, the Kingsley Tufts, and the 2019 St. Botolph Distinguished Artist Award. His collaborative translation and cultural communication projects with Chinese poets in the U.S. and abroad has earned him national recognition in China, and in Taiwan. He has taught at several colleges and universities in the U.S. and in Taiwan. At Simmons University he held the Alumnae Chair in English for twenty years. Afaa’s newest collection of poetry is A Fire in the Hills (Red Hen Press). He lives in upstate New York with his wife Kristen Skedgell Weaver.

Red Letter Poem #167

 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 #167






Tell me, what’s more American than. . .becoming American?  Than setting out from whatever corner of existence you were born into for the possibility of finding new roots within the dream-terrain that is this tumultuous nation?  And attendant upon this dream is a particularly American enterprise: marshalling one’s native talents in order to author a re-invented self, and all the new psychic apparel to suit this augmented soul.  If you don’t think of this as an essential element of our mythos, just ask Walt Whitman or Langston Hughes, Mary Oliver or Bob Dylan – each of whom gave voice to an original self within a new creative conception, casting a wizard-like spell on our collective imagination.  And each, I should add, inspired at least something of a cautionary disclaimer concerning their personal history: pay no attention to that man/woman behind the curtain.


Today’s Red Letter features a poet for whom such a project will not seem at all far-fetched.  Indran Amirthanayagam was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka; but his father – a poet, diplomat, and scholar – moved his family to London and later Honolulu.  As a young man in 1983 – and inspired by its rich poetic history (Federico Lorca’s Poet in New York was a strong influence) – Indran moved into a railroad apartment in lower Manhattan.  He eventually attended Columbia University’s School of Journalism, and a memory of those formative experiences inspired today’s new poem.  I loved hearing his tale of a young poet finding his way in storied Gotham.  (I’ll be shocked if a memoir of his peripatetic life is not someday in the offing.)  He became friends with Alan Ginsberg and recalled visiting his East Village apartment where Alan would “send the key down in a sock attached to a pulley.”  Following his mentor’s recommendation, he still remembers his first walk across the Brooklyn Bridge – then rushing out to purchase a copy of Hart Crane’s The Bridge and immersing himself in the poetry.  Later still, he became an officer in the U.S. Foreign Service which reinforced his belief in how language and culture can become a means of uniting disparate peoples rather than being seen as a source of division.  I’m sure he looks back today and marvels at the invention of his unique life and all the places it’s carried him.  Writing in Spanish, French, Portuguese, Haitian Creole, as well as English, Indran is an award-winning poet, essayist, and translator – the author of more than two dozen books.  In 2022, he was named by the International Forum for the Literature and Culture of Peace (IFLAC) its first ever World Poet/Poeta Mundial.  The very model of a poète engagé, Indran continues to commit his energies toward making sure our culture thrives and diverse voices are heard.  Along with his partner in poetry, Sara Cahill Marron, he edits Beltway Poetry Quarterly and its publishing project Beltway Editions.


We’ve just celebrated Independence Day.  The flags waved and the fireworks erupted in gushes of startling color.  But it’s not only nations that struggle to forge a sense of self-determination.  Young poets and artists, desirous of true personal and imaginative liberation, must consider the risks such a life-choice will entail – the strain it will place on their relationships, dreams, and even physical wellbeing.  It is a decision made (as the poet Rilke advised) when any other option is simply unimaginable.  But the primary reward for choosing this path is a life of one’s own creation, a more intimate possession of the joys and pains it will necessarily contain.  Indran’s poem reminds us that, despite the bruising such a heart must take: “It beats. It roars.”




Stepping Out from Columbia



Let’s go for a walk and see

moonlight shining over sky-

scrapers, fairy castles of New


Amsterdam, dreams of 

youth to realize in this ode 

to literature, music and theater 


unaware of impending deaths,

departures, home found then

abandoned, or transformed


into an idea, a moving 

village, a portable USB 

imprinted in the brain, free 


of ten thousand literary 

pounds in books, kitchen 

goods, toaster, fridge, gas range,


walking downtown from

Columbia following

steps I took once 


to honor Federico, 

zombies flying saucers 

out of the eye of Wall,


to honor ten thousand 

movies, to honor 

early, sweet love


without fear that this 

urge too will pass.

False. It beats. It roars.



     ––Indran Amirthanayagam




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:


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          


Monday, July 10, 2023

Roland Pearsall: Davis Square’s Cross-Generation rocker


article by Off the Shelf Correspondent Michael Todd Steffen

I took a chance and interrupted solo guitarist/singer Roland Pearsall between two songs while he was performing in Davis Square a couple of weeks ago. I had to muster up my courage. Pearsall sings in an untiring booming baritone, playing covers of James Brown, Gnarls Barkley, The Genies and Frankie Ford – from long ago. I was apprehensive of the sizeable and “mythic” persona of his talent, singular minded repertoire and the years of tradition resonant in his guitar and voice. Like I was approaching one in the brotherhood of Bruce Springsteen or Chris Isaak.

Yet I found Roland to be mild mannered, somewhat bashful, and personally respectful and appreciative of the opportunity to talk about his music.

MS How long have you been playing in Davis Square?

RP I started playing Davis Square, at least a few shows, in 2013. So a decade now. In 2015 I started using an electric guitar out there as opposed to an acoustic one.

MS This was your Newport Festival moment?

RP Laughs…

MS And you’re pretty much a solo artist?

RP I mostly play solo because of the ease of the setup. You really are your own boss and can come and go as you please. I know other musicians and do occasional full band shows, but I like being self-contained. My two albums – I’m working on my second one now – have full band instrumentation. In addition to guitar, I play drums, bass, keyboards and harmonica, so I can fill out the sound as needed.

MS I’ve caught myself standing here especially listening to you sing ‘Good Good Lovin’ or ‘Who’s that Knockin’. I’ll even miss one of my buses sometimes to wait out another set. One thing, it’s just plain good. The summer Lebowskis and young professionals alike around here suspend their usual chatter with one another to listen to your music. I see little children dancing to your songs with their parents.

RP Yea, well, I listen to everything, classic rock, blues, soul, R&B, oldies, country, folk, 60’s British invasion, rockabilly…I enjoy a lot of 90’s and 2000’s rock. I’ve even had rappers come up and freestyle with me providing the musical backing, so I appreciate that as well. When you’ve been singing a long time, you develop your own style, and at this point, regardless of what genre the song is in, I fit it to me.

It’s distinct in its choice of older music. I often find myself thinking, This is the music my parents were listening to when they got together first back in the late 50s and early 60s. To many other listeners, that would mean the music of their grandparents. How did you get into the older music?

 My parents helped this along for sure. Music played constantly in our house growing up – the Beatles, the Doors, oldies radio, stuff like that. In fact, I remember hearing Jim Morrison sing “Light my Fire” when I was still just a little kid and asking myself, “Hmm, a person has a fire to be lit?”

MS Were your parents musicians?

My father sang at parties and always got a good response. I was too shy for the longest time. Then I started doing it. Another inspiration was when my grandmother took us to see Chuck Berry when I was a teen. It was a great show. Berry confidently held the crowd and I felt like I intuitively understood what he was doing. This set me on the path of discovery, figuring out what songs to do when, and what to say, to hold the audience’s attention and generate good vibes with them.

MS But there’s a lot of reflection and know-how to the music too.

RP I do a lot of research on my own. One of my greatest joys is to unearth obscure music that deserves more attention than it got when it came out. Once I get into something, I get into it all the way and want to learn everything I can a about it. Music is no exception.

*******Catch Roland Pearsall live one afternoon or early evening in Davis Square, playing his American Standard Stratocaster – “the perfect street axe” – through his eponymous Roland Cube Street amp, with a separate channel for vocals. You’ll be telling yourself, This is the real thing. That’s how you’ll know him, with genuinely inviting entertainment for four generations, you, your kids, parents and grandparents – wherever “you” are in that lineup. You can also enjoy his music on