Poet Laureate

Steven Ratiner

Introducing Steven Ratiner, Arlington’s New Poet Laureate – and his mission: Delight!
One of Robert Frost’s famous lines makes the claim that “a poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom” – and Steven Ratiner takes him at his word. In August, Mr. Ratiner was appointed as Arlington’s third Poet Laureate and already he’s introduced an ambitious plan for poetry events and projects he’d like to help promote during his term. Some involve our public schools, hoping poets and artists can become a valuable resource in the classroom, demonstrating new ways of learning about the world. Others revolve around collaborations – poets partnering with area musicians or visual artists for cross-genre experiments.  In April, at the start of National Poetry Month, he launched the Red Letter Poems Project, release a series of weekly poems to be shared virtually during Covid-19 social distancing.


Enjoy Steven Ratiner’s RED LETTER POEMS . We encourage sharing these poems on social media using the hashtag #redletterpoems — let’s make those virtual locations we visit in lieu of coffee shops and restaurants in today’s challenging times a welcome place to gather and read poetry that moves you. Spread the hope and savor these beautiful literary jewels in the midst of the storm! Read the latest here. 

A Feast of Words

One project that will have its first presentation shortly is “A Feast of Words” – three-minute pop-up poetry readings taking place in area restaurants.  Diners will enjoy the surprise of having three of Arlington’s prominent poets appear unexpectedly, each reading a single poem, before they disappear for another venue. 

Authors Fred Marchant and Susan Donnelly will join our Laureate for the first evening’s round of Feasts.  “The poems we’ll choose will be about food, family and friends, our shared time together.  It’s our hope that this unexpected gift of words will not only enhance their dining experience but will remind even the poetry-phobes in the room (those, perhaps, turned-off to poetry by early and less-than-enjoyable experiences in a school setting) that there is a deep pleasure in a moment’s calm, in being read to aloud, in feeling how words connect our separate worlds, stir the imagination and memory.”

“If there was no delight in the process of making poems – in sharpening one’s attention, tuning the ear and mind to the deep musicality of speech and thought – I doubt that poets would persist in that labor. Every writer that I know has, during some or all of their years, worked a second job just for the privilege of working full-time at their primary and all-encompassing occupation. And I believe it is the responsibility of poets to make sure that delight is available to their readers as well – not only within the texts themselves but in the sorts of surprising situations where readers first confront the poem.”

Selected Poems by Steven Ratiner


Not the fat mandala the meteorologists
were touting on the news but
a dime-sized jewel floating beneath us
in the pond’s black skies which
my grandson, nearly two, snatches up
in his small fist. Opening it slowly
convinced of what he possesses,
and by what he’s possessed
he offers me his wet palm.
I kiss the moon there.

Transcendental Postcard

Wish you were here. Here,
the downpour has let up
and sail blades divide
one blue from another.
The eye bathes in light’s
sheer indifference.
Like carved figureheads,
bearded iguanas stare out from
the smooth limbs of the turpentine.
This whole island is a prow
rocking at anchor. You’d
have loved this blue stillness.
I’d have loved any weather
which delayed your departure.


After the stroke, when language
froze over in this throat, he had a hard timewith the snow — He couldn’t say,
and the sky wouldn’t stop saying —

We went walking, and the tracks
in our wake — And the cardinal-

red calligraphy scribbled between trees —
And the ticking like Morse across hat brim —

And the time I was certain his hiss
was about to coalesce into Steven —

And the dream I kept having: moon-
slick trail rising between birch ribs, breath

becoming smoke, ink becoming breath —
Writing these words across the page —

And even before the sentence is complete,
the footprints filling up with white —

So It Goes

Hover, drift, sidle, twist,
dipping a wing, leveling off,
great feather-light planes of color
threaded together like a Miró
mobile suspended in a gulf
of darkness inside some museum
of forgotten days, the faces of strangers
gazing upward, mouthing words you
cannot make out from this all-
consuming distance: hospice, the bed-
side gathering, the long night followed
by the even longer morning.