Saturday, December 02, 2023

Poet Krikor Der Hohannesian has passed....

 It is with a heavy heart that my friend, my fellow bagel bard, and consummate hipster has passed at 87. Here is an interview I conducted with him shortly before his death...

His last book was " The Last Day" by the Cervena Barva Press, and can be ordered at their website
Krikor Der Hohannesian lived in Medford, MA. His poems have appeared in many literary journals including The South Carolina Review, Atlanta Review, Comstock Review, Peregrine and Connecticut Review. His first chapbook, “Ghosts and Whispers”, was published by Finishing Line Press (2010) and was nominated for the Pen New England and Mass Book Awards.

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Red Letter Poem #184


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.









Red Letter Poem #184





Unbuilding the Golden Gate Bridge



Birdsong cures everyone’s hangovers,

and trucks beep as they back up

through sunrise.  My headache

carries me in front of this bridge


that, by the way, is red, not golden.

In a hundred years, I bet, it will fade

to rust, like the Tobin’s symbiosis

with the rocks near Boston Harbor.


The first two decades sprinkle gray, decay’s

invasion, as the wind volleys the sand

nearby.  Forty more years of sea spray

and the work’s about done.  century,


though!  That’ll glow with disrepair

like drivers turning blind eyes

to pile-ups.  Not that it matters now.

San Francisco rain falls all night long. 



––Dan Carey



Reading Dan Carey’s new poem, I found myself with mounting questions: does that barrage of morning birdsong really serve as balm to our collective hangover?  (And when was the last time I was still awake to hear that dawn chorus?)  Who was this group of sleepless revelers who partied so long and hard (or is the poet a self-appointed spokesman, perhaps, for the city’s late-night carousers as a whole?)  And what was the reason for such celebration––or is ‘reason’ even needed, beyond the fact that there is poetry in the world and plentiful wine. . .but also weather and rust and time’s rough machinery taking its toll on all that we love?  And will the Golden Gate fade to rust, as the young poet predicts––recalling, as he does, the cautionary tale of the Tobin Bridge, spanning Boston’s Mystic River (indeed, an edifice that long suffered shameful disregard?)  Or, perhaps, is it true that––in the wisdom of the city fathers and mothers––the San Francisco landmark has been perpetually repainted since 1965 in an effort to ward off the corrosive effects of the salt air?  That’s what I heard, back in the Seventies, when I was living on the West Coast, a young man who might easily have fit in with Dan Carey’s hungover dreamers, standing in awe before this stately orange-vermillion rainbow. 


But then my attention was snagged by the poem’s mention of a “century” of disrepair, and I began to get the impression that Dan’s faithfulness was not so much to the fact of the moment but to the feeling of a young person who worries that the great overarching structures of his reality (perhaps even our democracy, our culture as a whole) may be in a spiraling decline, providing little hope for his contemporaries who are more recent arrivals to this beleaguered world.  It’s almost enough (as they said in old movies) to drive you to drink!  And as I watch the morning drivers crossing the span of this vivid lyric, I find myself rooting for the strength to endure, to hope––perhaps for some Chrysopylae to appear before us (that was Captain Freemont’s Greek appellation, circa 1846, for this strait at the entrance to the city’s Bay––a ‘Golden Gate’ into this prosperous land), offering us a renewed sense of promise.  Or is that asking too much of a sixteen-line poem?


This is Dan’s second appearance in the Letters.  He received his B.A. in English from Suffolk University and, in 2021, completed his M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Lesley University’s Low-Residency Program.  Since graduation, Dan’s done what young poets do these days: turned to the Internet to (literally) help spread the word.  He created three issues of Paradise in Limbo, a literary magazine offering a new a forum for other emerging poets.  Some of his own poems have appeared in journals like Crosswinds, Anti-Heroin Chic, DropOut Literary Journal, and Suspended Magazine.  He currently manages social media for Grid Books/Off the Grid Press, and works as an Elementary/Middle School teacher.





Red Letters 3.0


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Sunday, November 26, 2023

Interview with Poet Pui Ying Wong: Fanling in October

Recently, I had poet Pui Ying Wong read at the Newton Free Library Series, a series that I have curated for over 22 years. Her poems contain lyric beauty; and she is a master of metaphor. Pui Ying Wong’s new poetry collection FANLING IN OCTOBER is from Barrow Street Press. She has written three other full-length books of poetry: The Feast, An Emigrant’s Winter and Yellow Plum Season —-along with two chapbooks. She has received a Pushcart Prize. Her poems have appeared in Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Plume Poetry, Chicago Quarterly Review, New Letters, Zone 3 and The New York Times, among many others. Born and raised in Hong Kong, she lives in Cambridge Massachusetts with her husband, the poet Tim Suermondt.

Why did you choose the setting of Fanling, a section of Hong Kong-- for your title and the focus of your poetry collection?

Fanling used to be a rural neighborhood until development in the 1980s brought in massive housing blocks. My father, who was estranged from the family, lived there after his retirement. The poem describes the period when he was ill. While it was about a personal experience, it was also about the changing times.

Hong Kong got into my poems, given that it was my birth city. When I put this collection together, Hong Kong was going through an unprecedented time in the 2019 democracy protests, my father had ultimately died from his illness. This particular moment when the personal and the public interacts is meaningful to me.

You quote poet Eavan Boland in your introduction: Stars rise/Moths flutter/Apples sweeten in the dark./ In your poems there is a sweetness in spite of the dark clouds around us.

Evan Boland is one of my favorite poets. She wrote about Irish history and challenges women like herself confronted in this history. Who got to write history in a society where bronze statues of male writers and orators lined main streets but no women? She had an intelligent understanding of her subject matters which were weighty ones, and yet she was not afraid to embrace moments of tenderness and wonder.

I think we can’t not know about human tragedy in our time, it’s there and has to be acknowledged. On the other hand we shouldn’t deny love, joy, beauty, the very things that make our lives worth living. In my own writing I try to be aware of these different forces.

In your poem "Great Lawn, July” you recall a line "Sit long enough and something arrives."  Your poem are deeply meditative—is this something you do when approaching a poem?

For the most part that’s true. I am interested in the inner life of the poem, how it becomes aware of itself and reacts. Let’s say I want to write about a tree, the question to ask myself is what is the essence about this tree, about this city, about this summer day, and so on. Maybe this practice is a way for me to comprehend the world, to grasp something beyond the surface. Obviously, other poets have written poems out of contemplation, and they serve as a model for my own. I particularly like the advise from the Polish poet Adam Zagajewski who said about writing, to rely on the tangible reality as long as we can.

Your poems are stripped down for the most part-- each word seems curated—an essential part of the whole. How hard is it to say so much with a few words?

Some poems need to be expansive, others sparse, it all depends on the particular poem and the poet’s intention. Yet most poets would agree that each word counts, whatever the style. On the other hand, I am mindful of the reader who comes with her own experience, imagination and intelligence. Poems I like give room for the reader to interact, excessive details snuff out curiosity and make the reading of it passive. In writing, what to leave in or leave out is part of the artistic process, and naturally reflects on the poet’s point of view and temperament.

Why should we read your book?

My book is one poet’s take on the world she sees. It hopes to resonate with the readers who will ultimately decide its worth.

Great Lawn, July

We are on a bench, idling

like the poets we love.

A softball team goes home,

a young father pushes a pram,

two joggers compare numbers

on their wristwatches.

The air light like the instant

we left a crammed cinema

after seeing a heavy drama.

“Sit long enough, and

something arrives,” a line

that is egoless,

whose author we forgot.

Dins of the day fade,

the world restores to peace.

Something comes back

like first love,

like hearing again the concert

once played in the fullness

of summer, altos

and altos—-

Half-nodding, half-listening,

we sit like dinghies

in a no-wake zone,

finding what we lost,

losing what we found,

and neither one wants to leave

’til towers of lights arrive,

bright and owlish.