Steven Ratiner, Arlington’s Poet Laureate, is today’s guest blogger.
When I was first appointed as Poet Laureate for Arlington, one of my goals was to help bring the strength and delight of poetry into unexpected settings. The Red Letter Poems Project was intended to share some of Arlington’s poetic voices in bright red envelopes, sent in a mass mailing to randomly-selected households – a small surprise amid the advertisements and bills. Before our team could make this happen, COVID-19 struck. But I feel now such outreach is more important than ever during this time of anxiety and isolation.
So I’ve created this e-version of the Red Letter mailings in grateful partnership with many of our town’s cultural resources: the Arlington Commission for Arts and Culture, the Arlington Center for the Arts, the Robbins Library, and the Arlington International Film Festival. We’ll send out a poem from a new poet every week, reaching many thousands of potential readers. Each installment will also be available on the websites from these organizations; and, if you enjoy them, we encourage you to forward them to friends – in Arlington and beyond – or to post them on your social media platforms with the hashtags: #RedLetterPoems, #ArlingtonPoetLaureate – and hopefully we will reach an ever-widening circle of readers who can appreciate a momentary respite from these challenging times. If you want to make sure you receive these poems directly – or to receive notices about future poetry events – send an e-mail to: email@example.com with the subject line ‘mailing list’.
In ancient Rome, feast days were indicated on the calendar by red letters. To my mind, all poetry and art – and, in truth, even the COVID-19 crisis itself – serves as a reminder that every day we wake together beneath the sun is a red-letter day.
Our area is blessed with many extraordinary poets, but I return to the work of Fred Marchant most often, especially when I’m needing a clear and deeply humane voice, one that both comforts and surprises. From his first book — Tipping Point (which won the 1993 Washington Prize) – to his most recent, Said Not Said (Greywolf Press) which was an “Honors Book” in the 2017 Massachusetts Book Awards, Fred’s work demonstrates how language connects us to all that’s brought us to this point, even as it awakes us to what’s coming next.
Red Letter Poem #1: