Red Letter Poem #38

Steven Ratiner, Arlington’s Poet Laureate, is today’s guest blogger.

People are always creating systems to classify/categorize/pigeonhole individuals, often with little success.  Yet I believe I can neatly divide humanity into two distinct groups: those who collect and those who disperse.  (I’m of the former category, though I don’t think my wife would be so charitable with that characterization; she might suggest pack rat as far more appropriate.)  Still, the dichotomy of these impulses is clear: one contingent is convinced that, at some later time, every one of these cherished items might again be pressed into service, yield new meaning.  Members of the other group (far more practical and clear-eyed) not only know when an object’s utility has passed, they can imagine the clearing in a household such unburdening will create (not to mention the possibilities which arise to fill the void.)  Joyce Peseroff’s fine lyric not only fleshes out these two categories, she draws back the emotional veil on those seemingly simple choices: what are we ever able to hold onto from our past; and what might we gain from a graceful surrender?  Of course, Joyce may well be playing a double game with us: just as she seems to be gently discarding these personal artifacts, she has preserved them in the unroofed attic of a poem.  And it’s we readers who might find ourselves reluctant to part with the recollections she’s coaxed us to unbox.  Sly, these poets! 

Joyce herself has been a mainstay of the Massachusetts poetry scene for decades.  Poet, teacher, editor, she’s been awarded grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Massachusetts Cultural Council.  Currently she blogs for her website SO I GAVE YOU QUARTZ ( and writes the poetry column for Arrowsmith Press.  “Limmer Boots” is borrowed from Petition (Carnegie Mellon University Press), Joyce’s sixth collection which, I must confess, will not be winnowed from my admittedly-crowded bookshelves.

Red Letter Poem #38: 

Red Letter 38

The Red Letter Poems Project was created 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, the Arlington International Film Festival, and Arlington Community Education.  See the full archive of the project at  We’ll send out a poem from a new poet every week. 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. If you want to make sure you receive these poems directly – or to receive notices about future poetry events – send an e-mail to: 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.

– Steven Ratiner

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