Friday, March 01, 2024

Red Letter Flashback Friday

 My Dear Readers,


I’m on the road this week––but rather than leave you Letter-less, I decided to share an older piece that many newer Red Letter readers will have missed (and old subscribers will likely savor a second time.)  Instead of ‘Throwback Thursday,’ this will be another Flashback Friday!  Enjoy Jennifer Barber’s meditation on the magnificent freight carried within the meaning of words. 


How time flies!  When this installment first appeared as Red Letter #60, this poetry project was just over one year old (we’re about to begin our fifth year!); and sweet George was turning five (now, rapidly approaching his eighth birthday.)  And yet somehow, you and I haven’t aged a bit.  Astonishing!


See you with a new poem next Friday!







Red Letter Flashback Friday





Just a short time ago, I was sitting on my son’s back porch playing with his toddler son.  Little George would call to me: “Baw, baw!”  And when I rolled the ball to him, he’d snatch at it with both hands and then applaud at the marvel of it all: he simply speaks a syllable, and Papa understands precisely what he needs.  It seems a few weeks have passed, and George is about to turn five, a precocious boy who is prone to lecture me on the difference between a tower crane and a gantry crane at the construction site––or why referring to that long-necked creature in the picture book as a brontosaurus is no longer deemed correct; “paleontologists now call him a brachiosaurus, Papa”, and he gives me a bemused look.  What a privilege: to witness a small being acquiring that most astonishing of tools, language, with which we each come to believe we might chart the vast distances between one thought and another––or, even more mind-boggling, between one galaxy (mine), and the one you inhabit, sitting there across the room.


And Jennifer Barber––whose poems seem to alternate between those quiet reaches within our hearts and the breathtakingly-mutable world without––reminds us that there is yet an even greater level of complexity involved when we attempt to rocket a probe into the deep space between one language, one culture, and another.  But the impulse propelling us is not so very different from George’s: by what name can I conjure that object of desire; and how can I ever know if my signal has reached you?  Jennifer’s poetry always seems adorned in its simple attire––and it takes some patience, a discerning eye and ear, to allow its beauty to overtake us––but when it does, we often find it has led us to unexpected beauties we, too, were quietly bearing.  Her most recent collection is The Sliding Boat Our Bodies Made published by The Word Works.  And she co-edited (with Jessica Greenbaum and Fred Marchant) a marvelous anthology of poems entitled Tree Lines: 21st century American poems (from Grayson Books.)  In 2021, she was selected as the fourth Poet Laureate from Brookline, MA.  And I cannot fail to mention that, way back in 1992, Jenny founded the literary journal Salamander, serving as its editor-in-chief through 2018 and patiently nurturing its evolution.  Now centered at Suffolk University in Boston, it remains a space where the voices of young and diverse talents can test the powers of their own language experiments and launch them in our direction.



In the Hebrew Primer



A man. A woman. A road.



Nouns like mountain and gate,

water and famine,

wind and wilderness

arrange themselves in two

columns on the page.


The verbs are

remember and guard;

the verbs are

give birth to and glean.


The eye picks its way

through letters like

torches and doors, like scythes.


The harvest, the dust.

The day calls, the night sings

from the threshing floor.


A woman, a man:

I was, you were, we were.



                  –– Jennifer Barber




Article by Joanne Barrett
Directed by Gus Kaikkonen
One Week Only: April 23 - 28, 2024,
at Calderwood Pavilion 

BOSTON, MA (February 2024)--Emmy-winning actor Gordon Clapp (NYPD Blue) will bring his acclaimed portrayal of poet Robert Frost to Boston this Spring in the one-man show "Robert Frost: This Verse Business" by local playwright A.M. Dolan. It’s an entertaining portrait of the great poet and platform legend whose public “talks” were hot tickets for nearly half a century and an illuminating glimpse of the old bard at home, aware of his fame and failures, with poems still to write and “promises to keep.” Directed by Gus Kaikkonen, performances will run from April 23-28, 2024, (Press Performance April 23 or 24) in the Roberts Studio Theatre at Boston’s Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, Tuesday - Friday, 7:30 PM; Saturday and Sunday, 2:00 PM. Tickets are $75 - $25. For more information, visit or call 617-617 933 8600.
“The Boston performances reflect a homecoming of sorts for the poet, who had a home on Beacon Hill and then, for the last two decades, in Cambridge on Brewster St.,” said Dolan. “He died in Boston, just weeks after giving his final ‘talk’ at the Ford Hall Forum. 2024 is the 150th anniversary of his birth, and April is ‘Poetry Month.’ The time felt right for the Boston premiere.” "Frost is a voice that we need in this century," Clapp said. "I feel like I'm bringing him into this time again."
In Clapp’s acclaimed portrait, the flinty old poet shares his verse from memory, along with witty “wild surmises” on art, religion, science, “radicals,” and “conservatives.” Culled from actual recordings and Frost’s writings, the production reveals in measured glances both the public and private faces of an American icon, whose poems about rural New England became a canvas for exploring deeper philosophical and social ideas. Included in the play are best-known poems such as “Birches,” “Mending Wall,” “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” and ‘The Road Not Taken.”
Clapp said that when he performs, he can feel an aura of expectation from certain audience members, hard-core Frost fans whom he calls "Frost-aceans" (like crustaceans). But he doesn't attribute this energy to his acting. "They're addicted to the poetry, and they're so moved by it," Clapp said. "I don't give myself a lot of credit for that. It's Frost himself right there."

Gordon Clapp has played Robert Frost more than 130 times at regional theatres and college towns in ten states. Mr. Clapp’s long career in theatre, television, and film includes his most recent Broadway performances as J. Edgar Hoover to Brian Cox’s LBJ in The Great Society in 2019 and as Judge Taylor, opposite Jeff Daniels’ Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird in 2021. In 2023 he played Gus Cudahy, the unexpected love interest of Mimi Kennedy’s “public intellectual” Prudence Payne, in the Arizona Theatre Company’s world premiere of Pru Payne and the title role of NFL legend Tommy McDonald in Tommy and Me at the Bucks County Playhouse. Numerous film credits including Matewan and Eight Men Out with loads of television guest and recurring roles. Clapp’s 12-season portrayal of Detective Greg Medavoy on NYPD Blue earned him the Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series in 1998. He has most recently been seen on HBO’s Mare of Easttown and Showtime’s American Rust. Mr. Clapp is frequently spotted on the Dartmouth Coach, traveling between Boston and his home in Vermont, which he shares with his wife, Elisabeth Gordon.
A.M. Dolan (playwright) was raised in Framingham and Wellesley in a theatre family. His mother, Muriel Dolan, taught voice and speech at Boston University and Brandeis University. She co-founded the Playhouse at Piccadilly Square in Newton with her husband, actor and critic Frank Dolan, and actress Anita Sangiolo in the 1970s. Andy has performed with Harbor Stage, Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theatre, Merrimack Rep, New Rep, and New Century theatres, among others. Robert Frost: This Verse Business won “Best New Play” (Kaplan Award) at the Eventide Arts Festival in 2010 and “Best Production” at the United Solo Festival in NYC in 2013. His two other plays are Five Live Poets and Dylan Thomas: In Country Heaven. He lives in Falmouth with his wife, Zoe Cardon.

Gus Kaikkonen (Director) credits include the New York production of Hindle Wakes nominated as Outstanding Revival by both the 2018 Drama Desk Awards and the Off Broadway Alliance. His direction of Robert Frost: This Verse Business starring Gordon Clapp won “Best Production” at New York's United Solo Festival. He directed his own new translations of Dr. Knock and Donogoo at the Mint, as well as the New York premieres of N.C. Hunter’s A Picture Of Autumn and Harley Granville-Barker’s Farewell to the Theatre, among many others there. At the Pearl—The Philanderer, Tartuffe, Arms and the Man, and several others, and multiple productions at Playhouse 91, the Phoenix Theatre Ensemble, and at HB Playwrights. In the regions, he has directed at Goodspeed, Ford’s Theatre (Trying with James Whitmore), Geva, the Asolo, the Philadelphia Theatre Company, Boars Head Theatre, the Springer Opera House, and the Coconut Grove Playhouse (About Time with Theodore Bikel), and at several other theatres. For a season he was the resident assistant director for the Washington Opera at the Kennedy Center. From 1990-93 he was the Artistic Director of Riverside Shakespeare Company in NYC, producing three seasons of works by Shakespeare and Shaw, as well as the world premiere of Iron Bars by Arpad Goncz, the President of Hungary. From 1996 to 2021 he was the Artistic Director of Peterborough Players, directing over 60 plays, and winning the New Hampshire Theatre Award for Best Director 11 times.

Robert Frost (poet) One of the most widely read and respected poets of the 20th century in the United States, Robert Frost received so many honorary degrees (27) a friend made the commencement hoods into a quilt. He was the first poet to recite at a presidential inaugural and is the only poet to have won four Pulitzer Prizes. His great popularity contributed to a new consciousness and patronage of contemporary poets and writers in the 20th and 21st centuries. “What began in obscurity is ending in a blaze of publicity,” Frost quipped.

Some of Frost’s fame stemmed from the many entertaining “talks” he gave, often in college towns before mixed crowds of students, faculty, and local citizens. Before reading or “saying” his poems, he would allow himself “a little say-so” about whatever was on his mind. These general audiences witnessed some of his broadest thinking and humor. Was the platform performer the man? No. He said if you really wanted to know him, “read his complete works.” He disliked attempts by critics to categorize him, classifying himself simply as a poet who “wanted to be understood” and whose ambition was “to lodge a few poems where they will be hard to get rid of...