Friday, December 15, 2023

Red Letter Poem #186

 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 #186





In this season of celebration and gratitude, may I add one more item for Red Letter readers to what I hope is your very long list: thank goodness for small press poetry!  I’m throwing no shade on the handful of massive corporate publishers who still feature verse among their yearly offerings; they’ve maintained their commitment to the art form when most of the others simply discarded their poet-authors as being unprofitable.  And I imagine every poet publishing today dreams of attaining one of the few glorious spots with a major press like Knopf, Norton, or Farrar Straus––but the vast majority of the fine work being issued these days is done through very small publishing houses or even one-man or one-woman operations.  They are the ones doing the yeoman’s work of combing through floods of manuscripts; discerning what is most accomplished, innovative, or brimming with delight; making arrangements with printers; attending to the tedious task of distribution; ensuring that the artform remains vital.  Small press poetry reflects the diversity of talents writing today, the daring of imaginative voices––from both established figures and young poets just starting their creative journeys.


All the bookshelves in our house have long been filled, and so tottering towers of books rise up in corners or on tabletops (much to my wife’s dismay.)  These represent the recent titles I’m still working through––and while my list can only hint at the vastness of literary works being published today, here are some of the names on the thin spines adorning my rooms: there are, of course, the more prominent houses like Graywolf, Copper Canyon, City Lights, Milkweed Editions; but also marvelous presses like Hanging Loose, Four Way Books, Coffee House, The Word Works, Rattle, Tupelo, Cervena Barva, Black Lawrence, Lily Poetry Review, Beltway Editions, Cascade Books, Red Hen, MadHat, Kelsay, and unlikely appellations such as New Orleans’ Unlikely Books.  And I haven’t even tried to tally up the dozens of fine university presses who occupy whole floors in this tower beside my easy chair.  So this is my holiday wish: if your days are nourished, your vision enriched by the work of poets writing today, struggling to be heard––buy yourself a gift of some small press poetry or send presents to friends.  It was Walt Whitman who said that without great audiences, there can be no great poetry.  We are indeed a community of voices––and the hearts and minds that receive them.


One of the most remarkable poetry enterprises is Boston’s own Arrowsmith Press.  Askold Melnyczuk’s small team manages to consistently produce handsomely-designed editions that bring us, not only many of the most important figures publishing today, but other great talents whose names were largely unknown to American audiences before Arrowsmith trumpeted their achievement.  They have also demonstrated a steadfast commitment to the writers of Ukraine who are struggling simply to survive the next bombardment let alone captivate an audience.  So today, our Letter will be a poem from a Ukrainian talent who has been gaining a wide audience in Europe but will be, I’m sure, new to some readers here: Halyna Kruk.  Arrowsmith issued a new bilingual collection bearing the rueful title A Crash Course in Molotov Cocktails; it gathers poems dating from the first Russian invasion, but concentrates on the current calamity.  The poems have been beautifully brought over into English by Amelia M. Glaser and Yuliya Ilchuk.  Halyna is the author of five previous volumes of poetry as well as a collection of short stories and four acclaimed children’s books.  Her writing, honored by numerous awards and fellowships, has been translated into over thirty languages.  Vivid, sardonic, startling, wracked with grief, her poems also manage somehow to conjure a kind of dark joy, as the continued brutality of the Russian attacks makes every new sunrise an occasion for celebration.  But while some in our Congress hold support for this beleaguered nation hostage to their political agendas, this poet’s warnings ought to shock us awake.  In “Stus”, she composes a litany of purposes by which her countrymen can contemplate the very real possibility of their impending demise: “make your death speak/ cover your death, like a chasm, with words/ so others won’t fall in.”  Her poems are not simply literary creations; they are artifacts of this historical moment––and, however painful, I am grateful for the opportunity to enter this world she’s working hard to preserve.




and Jesus ascended



and Jesus ascended at the Mount of Olives

in the city of Bucha, in the city of Irpin,

in the town of Hostomel, in the village of Motyzhyn

in the town of Borodianka

in the city of Chernihiv, in the city of Kharkiv,

in the long-suffering city of Mariupol

and prayed to the Father––

let this cup stop with me,


crucified on a bodily cross

on an unidentified mortal’s body

2022 the year of our Lord

in a soulless world


heaven and earth walk on by



––Halyna Kruk





Red Letters 3.0


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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


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Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Black History Month / Feb 13, 2024 Newton Free Library Poetry Series: Henry, Kersey and Collins

I asked poet Matthew E. Henry to curate the Newton Free Library Black History Month Reading at the Newton Free Library  Tues  Feb 13  at 7PM. Below is his bio, and the two poets he selected. Hope to see you there!

Matthew E. Henry (MEH) is the author of six collections, including the Colored page and The Third Renunciation. He is editor-in-chief of The Weight Journal and an associate poetry editor at Pidgeonholes and Rise Up Review. The 2023 winner of the Solstice Literary Magazine Stephen Dunn Prize, MEH is an educator who received his MFA yet continued to spend money he didn’t have completing an MA in theology and a PhD in education. You can find him at writing about education, race, religion, and burning oppressive systems to the ground.

Sarah Kersey (she/they) is a poet and x-ray technologist originally from New Jersey. Her debut chapbook is forthcoming from Newfound in 2024. In 2021, they were a finalist for the PEN America Emerging Voices Fellowship. They have also received support from Tin House Workshop. Sarah tweets @sk__poet.

Quintin Collins (he/him) is a writer, assistant director of the Solstice MFA in Creative Writing Program, and a poetry editor for Salamander. He is the author of The Dandelion Speaks of Survival and Claim Tickets for Stolen People, selected by Marcus Jackson as winner of The Journal's 2020 Charles B. Wheeler Prize. Quintin's other awards and accolades include a Pushcart Prize, a BCALA Literary Award honor, the 2019 Atlantis Award from the Poet's Billow, and Best of the Net nominations.