Friday, March 08, 2024

Red Letter Poem #197

 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 #197






Under the Overpass Off the 405 North



After I’d claimed my suitcase from the rumble

of the rotating carousel at LAX, after I’d caught

the Flyaway bus and we’d barreled into the smog

and wall-to-wall on the 405 North, after the exit ramp

curving down and around it, for just a second

I saw them, they were like three farmers tilling a field,

two men from the highway maintenance crew

in orange reflective vests cropping a patch of grass

with rotating trimmers and a third man paring the slope—

you couldn’t call it a garden, it was sparse and not

particularly beautiful, a few trees, a bird or two

probably chirping as we drove by—but it was as if

the part of me that had shut down and grown numb

had swallowed a shot of ginger with turmeric—

in less time than it takes to write less time, I was

revived by this nearly eye-to-eye respite from greed

and speed and need—and sure, this was just a job

and likely doesn’t pay well, and I bet those vests

are itchy in the heat, these men eager for their break

or the end of their shift, but they were trimming

the weeds with whirling blades that seemed as tender

as a barber’s shaver shearing the nape of a man’s neck,

and I'm preserving this scene as if it were hoshagaki,

those Japanese dried persimmons which I just misspelled

as permission, I’m letting the sugar crystallize and bloom

into the orange vests the three men were wearing,

I’m letting myself pasture in a patch of earth, a little

tended, a little mended, in the bend of a highway.



                ––Wendy Drexler



Our flight was delayed and––after a long tiring day of crowded terminals and TSA scrutiny; after the jumble of baggage carousels and airport traffic––my wife and I arrived home late last night, tumbled into bed, and were almost instantly asleep.  I found myself subsumed by the sorts of dreams that tend to be instigated by travel, changes of scenery, dramatic shifts in perception.  Such visions can’t help but reflect the neural overload that comes as a kind of package deal with the privilege of modern-day possibility.  And that word led me back to Wendy Drexler’s new poem and the notion I feel simmering at its heart: possibility––those unexpected worlds that the imagination uncovers in the interstices between one ordinary moment and the next.  Her poem seems to me almost overflowing with language and observation, barely pausing to catch its breath; it’s as if the speaker’s mind, buffeted by the world’s tumult, is trying desperately to latch onto some thought that will keep it safely afloat.  And so possibility becomes coupled with play––that irrepressible urge to tinker with or repurpose what the day is presenting to us.  And wasn’t it delightful to feel our own minds bouncing along in the wake of the poet’s, one playful phrase bubbling into the next?  Simple terms seem suddenly suggestive, even mysterious––and what would you expect when (as the title states) you find yourself “under” the “over”, a weary passenger on the “Flyaway” bus?  What “claim” can we make on this or any day?  How did we wind up on this carnival “carousel” in the first place?  And if we’re willing to entrust our fate to this momentum, where in the world will it take us?


But, in the nick of time, the mind does secure its ballast in the form of that little faux-pastorale glimpsed beside the highway exit: “farmers” who turn out to be, not some Wordsworthian vision, but a road crew hacking at the overgrowth.  Oh, but the unexpected “tenderness” of those whirling weed trimmers!  And the orange reflective vests that remind the poet of dried persimmons––a fruit that, unsurprisingly, brings to mind Japanese New Year celebrations, symbols of good luck and longevity.  And that, in turn, prompts me to revisit artists like Hokusai and Sakai Hōitsu who have used the humble persimmon to demonstrate how a simple image can indeed become an exquisite refuge of the mind.  But Wendy is not through––and by this point she must be engaged in writing (or typing) her poem, because a slip of the fingers (or perhaps the mischievous auto-correct) turned persimmon into permission.  Yes, another in a string of lovely ‘p’ words: possibility, play, persimmon, and the unbridled imagination granting us permission to savor this moment of unconventional beauty.  As an older poet once wrote: “The world is too much with us”––and having “given our hearts away”, we must act to reclaim them.  Wendy invites us into the pasture of this enticing moment, lush with musical language––and we feel soothed by it, here in a bend in the highway we’re traveling on together (even if our paths have never crossed.)


Wendy is the author of four collections of poetry––the most recent being Notes from the Column of Memory (Terrapin Books)––and, in 2022, was awarded an artist fellowship from the Massachusetts Cultural Council.  Her work has appeared in dozens of fine journals including The Threepenny Review, Salamander, and Prairie Schooner––and featured on the Verse Daily site and WBUR’s Cognoscenti.  Between 2018 and 2023, she served as the poet-in-residence at New Mission High School in Hyde Park, MA.  She is also the Programming Co-Chair for the venerable New England Poetry Club.  And to this list, I must add that the poet would seem to be a most pleasing traveling partner; never a dull moment when the heart is attentive and the mind is alive.




Red Letters 3.0


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Sunday, March 03, 2024

Somerville Artist Bruce Myren: Explores History as a Living Entity

I recently caught up with Somerville photographer Bruce Myren to conduct an interview about his life and his accomplished work.

From his website:

Bruce earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design and a Master of Fine Arts in studio art from the University of Connecticut, Storrs.

Myren's photographs have been featured in various publications such as the Boston Globe, Boston Phoenix, Boston Magazine, Fraction Magazine, Afterimage, and View Camera Magazine. His photographs are part of collections owned by Fidelity Investments, the Center for Creative Photography, the Library of Congress, and many private individuals.

His project, The Fortieth Parallel, has been included in critical/art historical essays by Katherine Palmers Albers and Kelly Dennis. He has also been showcased in numerous group exhibitions across the United States and displayed in distinguished art galleries such as the Phoenix Art Museum, RISD Museum's Chace Center, Houston Center of Photography, the William Benton Museum of Art, and Gallery Kayafas, where he is represented.

Aside from his artistic work, Myren is employed at the Boston Public Library's Digitization Lab, is the photographer at the Peabody Museum of Archeology & Ethnography at Harvard University, and owns Bee Digital Lab. He has taught photography at Fitchburg State University, Amherst College, Rhode Island School of Design, Art & Design at Lesley University, the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, and Northeastern University.

Myren is an active member of the artistic community, and he has received recognition for his work through a Cambridge Arts Council Grant; he is an alum of Review Santa Fe and served as a juror for the Griffin Museum of Photography and The Rhode Island State Council of the Arts. He has presented on panels at the College Art Association and the Society for Photographic Education national conferences. He was the Northeast Chapter of SPE Chair from 2010-2016.

 First off—how has it been for you as a creative working in Somerville—at the Vernon Street Studios?

I enjoy being a part of the community here at Vernon Street Studios; everyone is friendly and cares about each other; additionally, we have the opportunity to open our studios twice a year. The Vernon Street Studios is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. The public should be looking for news about the celebration this coming fall. The fact that the studio is just a mile from my home and now has the Green Line just a block away makes it even better. However, there is also the concern of gentrification and increasing rent prices that could potentially force artists out of the building. The availability of affordable artist spaces is a significant issue in the Greater Boston area. It would be helpful if the city could provide more support for artists, such as a rent stipend or voucher system to help offset the costs of maintaining a studio in Somerville. Additionally, it is essential to consider that not all artists' work directly engages with public and social issues, so funding should not be limited to those aspects of artistic output as it could exclude a lot of artists.

Your day job is at the Boston Public Library with the "Lab and Palm Press"-- a digital project. Can you tell us about this?

I work multiple jobs to support my art, as many artists need to. One of my roles is as a digital imaging specialist at the Boston Public Library. In this job, my responsibilities include digitizing old film negatives from the BPL's collection and other non-profit organizations in the Commonwealth. I get to view many fascinating old pictures of the local landscape, which helps me fuel my creative practice.

Apart from that, I also own a consulting, printing, and scanning business for other artists called Bee Digital Lab. We offer photography and personalized service, often working one-on-one at the studio, making prints the way the client wants.

You stated in your bio that you investigate issues of space and time in your photography. How does this play out?

Photography is a medium that captures a unique moment in time and space, transforming it into a permanent 2D image. As a photographer, I create new spaces and connections within this structure by selecting my subjects carefully. My work examines history as a living entity, which is projected into the future by displaying the photographs.

In your latest photo project titled "Return of Elms" you make a study of Elm trees. I have seen the stately Dutch Elms in Boston— and I always viewed them as a patrician tree. What draws you to these trees, and how does it fit in with your study of time and space?

My projects are about how art can connect the past, present, and future. The 'Return of Elms' photography series incorporates black and white film to pay homage to the past but also features images of contemporary trees in urban environments to look towards the future. The series  captures the daily life surrounding these trees, showcasing how they are an essential part of our world.                                       

Why should we view your work?

I think that looking at art can be a great way to connect with different perspectives, cultures, and ideas. I want to think that my art evokes emotions, sparks conversations, and inspires others’ creativity. Art can also provide a way to better understand the world around us, whether through historical context or contemporary issues. Additionally, viewing art can be a form of self-care and relaxation, allowing us to take a break from our busy lives and immerse ourselves in something beautiful or thought-provoking.