Saturday, June 29, 2024

Red Letter Poem #213

 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 #213










June dripped its scent––summer rain, / left sketches on my dress  

Desperately, I wrote to you / deleted many times, twisting 


adjectives for objective: express / something tender despite tendency  

to guard, harder when words seldom / seem to fit my fancy. Fearful, I culled 


substance from every language I could, but couldn’t / find anything real to relay. Really  

just wanted to say: you can’t predict / missing, constantly becomes, daily, 

a new act  



                                                             ––Lauren Fields




If you’ve been reading my Red Letters for a while now, you’ve noticed how often I highlight the sonic qualities of the featured poem.  If asked to detail which elements captivate in contemporary poetry, I’m sure most of us would prize voice, image, vision, and sound.  And while the contemporary literary trend seems to veer dramatically toward the rhetorical, to my mind it’s still the underlying musical quality that is absolutely vital and most often underappreciated.  I’d argue that the aural structure within the poem––often the result of an intuitive response by the poet, and then clarified during the long process of revision––is responsible for those surprising and deeply emotional effects on a reader, sometimes coloring our response before the conscious mind has fully grasped the meaning of the words. 


It’s June, a time associated with love and weddings–– and so I selected a love poem to close out the month.  Love and longing––it’s one of poetry’s prime categories.  And while this is much-explored territory, Lauren Fields still finds a way of refreshing the form and making it her own.  The wistful tone of the piece is present right from its opening line.  What is that mood-setting scent enveloping the speaker?  We imagine the profusion of flowering plants, the intoxicating aroma of the fertile earth, heavy in the rainy atmosphere.  But something else, perhaps more desperate, is wafting in as well.  And while she speaks of her frustrated desire to send the beloved a note that might carry her heart, the rain is busy imprinting designs on this woman’s dress, inscribing its own messages.  There is a reason that love songs gravitate to big plummy vowel sounds to sway a listener: moon, June, bloom, honeymoon.  But Lauren presents a veritable cascade of short-e sounds in her opening couplet––that pinched eh––a much more tenuous and even languishing tonality.  Did your heart register this tremor?  Mine certainly did.  Hope was being tested by those failed attempts, “deleted many times;” and if my pulse elevated just a bit with the chiming “tender” and “tendency,” no less than five more short-e’s flood the following lines, serving to tap the emotional brakes, spur caution.  It seems to me this succinct seven-line poem is a constant battle between a sort of emotional kindling flaring up and the showers of despair dousing the flames.  Even the rhythmic flow of the piece is continually undermined by those slash marks (usually a poet’s notation for line breaks) which, in reading, feel like a repeated catch in the throat; and, of course, they resemble the downpour of anxiety that becomes this poem’s overarching weather.  At the conclusion, the speaker strikes a pose of self-assuredness––that “new act,” a kind of protective device which a distant and equivocal love imposes on this sensitive soul––and we are left unsure whether love or loss is in the forecast.


Dr. Lauren Fields (she leaves off the title in her authorial byline, but I can’t help restoring it to her biography) is a psychiatry resident in the MGH/McLean Hospital program here in Boston, and is now entering her 4th and final year.  She tells me she is planning to pursue a fellowship in consultation-liaison psychiatry, with a special interest in working with patients suffering from sickle cell disease.  But, like Dr. William Carlos Williams before her, I suspect she will practice medicine with a poet’s pocket notebook always close at hand.  One of the prize-winners in the 2020 International FPM-Hippocrates Health Professional Poetry Award, Lauren’s poems have been featured in literary magazines such as Blackberry, Linden Avenue Literary Journal, WATER Literary and Arts Magazine––as well as the anthologies A Garden of Black Joy: Global Poetry from the Edges of Liberation and Living; and Corona: An Anthology of Poems.  It is my pleasure that her practice continues to include the Red Letter community.





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