Saturday, April 27, 2024

Red Letter Poem #204

  Red Letter Poem #204





Two Poems


      ––Yuliya Musakovska



Year’s End



The year rolls to its end like a truck on a patch of ice,

stuffed with random junk, dollar store items,

used cartridges, funny figures on strings,

souls sold for nothing,

royal gifts,

burnt-out stars, masks, together with skin.

How much is left here, o universe, trembling and alive.

The smell of ash in the air. Neon signs glowing brightly.

Tomorrow’s rust creeps out on the body of a Christmas tree.

The expiration date will soon pass, relics will lose their value.

Wounds that won’t heal, will become less noticeable.

A stubborn plant in a pot, someone’s snoring in bed––

the landmarks that hold you from flying

off the edge into the void of a new reality, but really

into the river of the blank page,

a milk-honey one, thick and tacky.


The year rotates on its axis, back to its start.

The year turns into a wolf, pulling off last year’s sheep skin.



It was the right thing to do.  And we all knew it was right––Democrat and Republican legislators both, not to mention the majority of the electorate: to support the beleaguered people of Ukraine in the defense of their homeland; to stand in opposition to a Russian dictator whose ravenous ambitions might well thrust all of Europe into peril.  And yet, for six months, the President’s request for additional aid languished––until this very week.  It’s the curse of politics, especially now in these dis-United States.  Our politicians have forgotten that the root of the very word is polis––the citizens of the city; and the will, the welfare––of our people and theirs––ought to be paramount, not power-plays and the prospect of reelection.


Not long after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, I made a promise to myself that I’d publish a new poem every few months focusing on this harrowing conflict––often featuring the voice of a Ukrainian poet bringing us a first-hand glimpse of life under siege.  It was a small act of solidarity with this nation courageously fighting for its survival against what has, sadly, become a well-documented and utterly inhumane aggression.  I’m proud to have been able to share some amazing talents with Red Letter readers––and one of the most daring is Yuliya Musakovska.  Her poems featured in these electronic pages––“The Spartan Boy” and “Bones”––deeply affected readers; and Yuliya’s work has been hailed, in Ukraine, across Europe, and beyond.  Translated now into over thirty languages, she has earned numerous honors for her five published collections ––the last of which, The God of Freedom, is just now available here from Arrowsmith Press, carried over into English in artful translations by Olena Jennings and the author herself.


Originally appearing in 2021, The God of Freedom contains poems that reflect on how life in her country has dramatically transformed following the 2014 Russian occupation of Crimea and continuing with this current attack.  But in addition to glimpses of the bloodshed, Yuliya captures the tremendous emotional cost––on individuals and families, on the national psyche as a whole.  A poem refuses to allow us to view events from a safe distance; it coaxes our consciousness into the thick of things where we can experience that what’s at stake is not mere politics but the lives of families very much like our own.  A poem strips off “last year’s sheep skin” until we can feel the wolf’s hot breath on our own necks.  This is a gift Yuliya is offering––first, to her own countrymen and women, but then to the world (or that portion of the world still capable of listening.)  “How much is left here, o universe, trembling and alive.”  This is certainly one of a poet’s jobs: to be alert to, and take note of, how the world is changing around us.  It’s a problematic offering, to be sure, carrying emotional risks as well as a deeply spiritual rewards––chief among them: for a moment, we may experience ourselves as citizens of this planet, where the mind’s passport easily transcends borders, discovers kinship.  It may even (as in “Pillow”, today’s second poem) lead us toward a gratitude for those whose love is always there in times of crisis, to help break our fall.  It might benefit our political discourse if our leaders occasionally took time from diatribes and position papers to read a poem, to recall the faces of the polis too often obscured by policy.  That, too, would be a gift.





The man who takes good care of me

carries a pillow tucked under his arm,

so he can lay it down

every time

before I happen to fall.

Be there for me—I don’t tell him.

Icy roads. Each fall

with a little less fear.





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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

From the Classroom: The Tortured Poet Department


Article by Doug Holder

Since Harvard University has a course on Taylor Swift in their catalogue, I thought, " What the heck, maybe I could use Swift as a teaching tool." During class we discussed the Found poem. And our exercise  that day was to create a 'Found' poem based on Taylor Swift's recent album release.  So, I found a video that has Swift singing one of her songs, as a typewriter types out the lyrics. I asked the students to take the lyrics that they wrote in their notebooks, and either rearrange them into a poem, or take a line that strikes them, and make their own poem. Some pretty good stuff came out of the exercise. We also had an interesting discussion if Swift was truly a poet, not just a songwriter.  The students felt that her lyrics wouldn't make it to the poem stage--they are dependent on her music to bring them to life. I talked with them the about the importance of having a poem work on the 'stage' and on the 'page.' Swift herself admits in her song that she is no Dylan Thomas or Patti Smith-- and writes that she and her ex:  "are modern day idiots." Swift in my opinion is hardly an idiot, but a greatly- talented performer. However, she ain't a poet- may be that's why she is tortured..