Welcome to our first virtual event as part of 1455’s ongoing Author Series. A shout out to our friends at Handley Library in downtown Winchester, where we usually have these monthly events, in person.

By way of introduction, I’d like to start by wishing everyone as much health and happiness as it’s possible to convey. It seems that so much of our world has ground to a halt, and standard operating procedures rightly went out the window. But as part of our mission to produce as much free content and programming as possible, it seems that there’s never been a more appropriate or necessary time to explore and celebrate the myriad ways art can provide distraction, solace, and inspiration.

I can’t think of a better person to kick off this evolving vision of 1455’s outreach than my dear friend Justen Ahren. In fact, without Justen, and his friendship and example, it’s hard to imagine 1455, and all that’s happened since 2017, would be possible. I met Justen when he was in charge of the Noepe Center for Literary Arts, which he founded and ran for over a decade. I was there, first for a two-week residency in 2015, and then as writer in residence and manager in 2016. As this conversation will make abundantly clear, I’m a fan of Justen, the artist, and Justen, the human being.

Obligatory Bio: Martha’s Vineyard Poet Laureate, Justen Ahren, is the author of a previous collection of poems, A Strange Catechism. He is founder and director of Noepe Center for Literary Arts and the Italy Writing Workshop. Ahren is also a photographer. His current project, A Machine for Remembering, from which the photos in this book are drawn, focuses on refugees and refugee landscapes. To read more poetry and view photographic work, visit justenahren.com, and follow him on Instagram and Facebook, @justenahren.

Two of his poems, below, followed by a video of our recent conversation.

Curfew and Pears


A blue evening like this one 

when the soldiers come

everyone is quiet at first
then we lie about our neighbors

for bread for shoes 

you do what you must.

A fat housefly taps the window 

on a blue evening like this one

a cello sits in the corner 

missing its strings.

After supper we walk by the river 

under the pears about flower

between blackened statues 

men fish from a bridge

women gather firewood, 

water and rumors —

the approaching footsteps 

of an occupation.  

A blue evening like this one 

when the soldiers come

we forget happiness is 

cheering the pears 

hurling petals 

at tanks in the street.

A Machine for Remembering

How We Arrive at Now

Words sow me to the land. 

I don’t know if I am good,

but I am beginning to understand 

the violence I’ve been given,

the lies I’ve agreed to share, 

the gestures of the dead,

the objects they’ve handled
and have broken with their labors

and their affection. For this world 

I must try to articulate

how fingers wore handles of shovels

and footsteps ground

paths from small rooms
to river crossings and stations,

where the people have prayed 

to see those they are missing:

the lives staggering like flames and leaning away. 

I’ve been given to weep for them,

though it’s no longer legal.

I don’t want to leave them

words only, daydreams 

but what their bodies have trapped,

their own private trees.  

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