Thursday, March 28, 2024

Red Letter Poem #200

 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 #200





My Sister’s Foot



I am obsessed with shoes.

Smooth red suede heels

3 inches high

navy blue leather flats for ankle-length pants.

Sandals with diamonds and silver bling.

Sneakers for tennis

green as grass.

I hate Mary Jane’s

the unsightly strap.

No style there.


My sister asks me to put a gold flat shoe

on her black titanium foot.

I push and push like the ugly stepsister,

escaped from “Cinderella.”

But still, I cannot get it to fit.

She cannot feel

me pound it on her foot

or my heart as I look away.

I return the shoe to the closet

with other shoes she’ll never wear

steps she’ll never take.



    ––Jean Flanagan




The dark forest. . .the threatening beast. . .the quivering candle flame pointing the way home.  Even before the Brothers Grimm began collecting them in book form, traditional fairy tales comprised an elaborate text of moral and practical wisdom, stocked with characters and events familiar to every individual who has survived childhood.  These iconic stories have been preserved on the tongues of grandparents and inscribed upon the blank pages of our young imaginations.  But I was an impressionable college kid, way back in 1971, when Anne Sexton’s Transformations was published––a book-length collection recasting those iconic narratives into fraught situations not-so-very far from our own everyday reality.  Anne was not the very first to do this, but the scope of her sly and spirited re-imaginings had tremendous psychic resonance––for me and a whole generation of rising poets.  Fairy tales and myths have remained part of our poetic toolbox ever since. 


So it is not surprising that Jean Flanagan has turned to such a formulation in trying to come to terms with this particular family memory.  But what caught me off guard (and became creatively refreshing within her poem) was the unexpected ways she cast the roles in this little drama.  Her younger sister plays the part of Cinderella––except she has lost, not her glass slipper, but the foot itself (and I can’t help envisioning cruel diabetes lurking off-stage like that big bad wolf.)  Jean explained to me that her sister lives with a titanium prosthetic from the knee down but has somehow never surrendered to self-pity (making her a heroine indeed.)  But, in this skewed version, the narrator imagines herself as “the ugly stepsister”, trying hard to get an attractive dress shoe to stay in place.  A self-deprecating gesture, to be sure, but doesn’t that hint at the tangled thicket in which all our fragile egos exist?  In this scene, we envision the sister aspiring to––not the Prince’s dress ball––but the palace of everyday experience from which she might sometimes feel excluded.  And when the speaker looks away, heart pounding, we are all reminded of how often fairy tale endings fail to materialize.  Still, isn’t Jean’s poem the sort of candle flame by which we can take our bearings?


Jean, I am happy to say, succeeded me as Arlington’s Laureate and is in the midst of her second term.  Following the democratizing instincts that have long characterized her work, she has focused on bringing poetry to diverse settings, and inviting poets and artists to combine forces for the enrichment of the community.  Two thematic threads have run through most of her own poetry: the effects of the Irish diaspora and the intricacies of family life (the two often intersecting.)  She’s published two collections–– Ibbetson Street (Garden Street Press) and Black Lightning (Cedar Hill Books)––and has had work appear in a variety of publications including, most recently, Nixes Mate Review and The Power of The Feminine Vol 1.  For many years, Jean has also taught in a variety of educational settings including an alternative sentencing program called “Changing Lives Through Literature.”  She was one of the founders of the Arlington Center for the Arts which continues to be, decades later, a cornerstone of cultural life in our area.




Red Letters 3.0


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Somerville Artist/Poet Bridget Seley Galway: Talks about her life in poetry and painting

Recently, I caught up with the accomplished poet and artist Bridget Seley Galway, before her exhibit of her work at the Cultural House in Union Square, Sat, March 30, 2024  5:30 to 8PM. There will also be a poetry reading after the opening...

    Doug Holder: You lived in a number of places over the years: Somerville, Provincetown, New York City- - do you think your most creative years have been in Somerville?

    Bridget Selway Galway: What I have come to realize is everywhere  that I have lived from childhood to present --my creating art has been equal in measure.

    My creative spirit and thoughts are constant company. They have and are always stirring around in the cauldron of my imagination until ready to be served up into a poem or painting. My belief is this state of processing is just as creative in being as any tangible outcome of my art and writing.

    Since moving to Somerville I have written more than any other time in my life, and because of that have I achieved having two collections of my poems published.

    There are two main reasons for this. First, I moved here from Provincetown shortly after my Mother passed. That was an extremely painful time and I isolated for three years.

    My writing has always given me great solace during difficult and emotional times in my life.

    Given the huge life change of my Mother passing along with leaving my life long roots in Provincetown, I was quite raw in my grief. All of which, along with my past experiences, I processed through my writing. I am inspired to create something touching and lasting through my poetry to honor everything that is important to me. It also serves my need to acknowledge anything of beauty, which is a healing force in my life, and many of my poems are manifested from that.

    The 2nd reason was connecting with you and your invitation to join the Bagel Bards. You and the Bards have been a huge springboard towards my writing. Being included in anthologies, and my art on their covers as well as individual poet collections has been a blessing. I have been so inspired by the many poets and writers I have come to be surrounded by. I became more committed to writing poetry and this in turn has expanded my poetic language.

    As far as my art, I go through times I'm very productive and times when even though I have an abundance of creative ideas, they seem daunting. Now, there are pragmatic reasons that get in the way. The main one is the lack of studio space I need for many of my ideas. My ideas yearn to be as large as possible. Birds of a Feather, which is one you, chose for an Ibbetson cover, is quite a large painting I created when I was fortunate to be living in an artist/live space in Provincetown. It was the last time I had studio space, and so I was able to manifest my ideas for larger pieces. I still manage to move past the limitation of not having studio space, but it definitely limits my ability to be as prolific as my ideas. Now especially since I am retired, and have the time to commit to my art, which I often chastise myself for not doing.

    DH: In some of your poems your bohemian mother appears-how was she an influence on you and your work?

    BSG: This questions answer will be abundant, but it could be a novel if answered fully.

    Our Mom, my brother and I, was the most loving, demonstrative, generous person I've ever known. My first memories of childhood began in Greenwich Village, within the bohemian culture of the 50's and continued through all our many moves. Creative people always surrounded me. The bohemian culture of the 50’s was so far from the norm.

    There was always interesting conversations about life books, politics, art and writing.

    Our Mom was brilliant, with a quick wit. Observing her knowledge within conversations, her endless humor was an education no schooling could provide.

    As young children she read the classics to my brother, such as Dickens Kipling, as well as The Hardy boys and other wonderful children's books.

    When I was school age it became clear that I struggled to read. I was dyslexic. At that time educators were not educated to identify dyslexia. They expressed to my Mom that  I was a low functioning learner, with a low IQ. Her response was "She's fucking brilliant, you need to learn how to teach her." She had no problem adding expletives to make a point, and did so often in a very colorful way within a command of the English language like no other person I would ever know.

    She was an insatiable reader. She often shared her knowledge of writers and books with me. She was my salvation for my self- esteem, my greatest teacher and cheerleader when it came to my art and writing.

     DH:   Often in your work the ocean is referenced. What is the allure for you? Is the Shoreline more enticing than the ocean itself?

    BSG: The introduction in the beginning of my collection defines what Shorelines mean to me.  "Shorelines are where the ebb and flow create a constant transformation. "Our Mom was living on a boat on the Florida Keys while she was pregnant with me and after I was born.

    I learned to swim before I learned to walk. So while in the natal sea and after, water was both comforting and freeing. The element of water stirs my emotions, and inspires my creativity. All forms of nature inspire me to create. However, my first memories begin in Greenwich Village, and have continued to inspire my art and writing, and many of my poems stem from those memories.

    DH: You are an accomplished artist, as well as a poet. Your art has graced the cover of Ibbetson Street, and any number of books. Your portraitures are quite beautiful, and often wistful. Your subjects look like they are in a state of meditation.

    BSG: With the exception of a few and of my son, most of my portraits are from my imagination and rise from how I feel and am in the world. My imaginary paintings of people are large and fill the space with their presence. This emphasizes the emotion that comes through, and I believe that is what is most striking to the viewer.

    The many compositions I create, whether they are portraits or other subjects come from the same feeling and inspirations as my poetry. I create them through the same emotional processing. So although they do not look like me, they are internal self-portraits.

    Then there are the ones of my son. I have captured the different phases of his life. My spiritual belief has influenced my ability to view and relate to my son as a completely separate being with his own ways, and path to experience, and not to intrude on that with expectations. Of course I fall short sometimes of that stance when I want to relieve him of any struggle or suffering along the way.

    All his ways and phases have also continued to inspire my art and writing.

    DH: Why should we view and read your work?

     BSG: All the answers to your questions are defined within the poems of this collection. The poems begin with memories from childhood, and move forward chronologically to some degree. Intermingled are poems that formed from the outcome of those experiences. There are also images that do the same. I created those images to be visual poems, which serve to provide not only a separation between times and topic, but also as introductions.

    A Little Word 


    While looking for a word  

    to define the images 

    I place in little boxes 

    so to say to you, 

    a little box can hold more than its size. 


    I came across the Greek word  


    Such a little word 

    with great expanse of meaning 

    as to go 

    "through, or across” 


    "from point to point; completely" 


    Its meaning is found 

    in the beginning  

    of many words. 


    Most perfectly for me 

    is Dialog. 

    From which the images I place 

    to pose thoughts 

    for you to take 

    beyond the little boxes I create