Beth Am congregant Charles Rammelkamp, 68, recently published his book of poems “Catastroika.”
The Hampden writer had always been a fan of good literature. In college, he scooped up everything by William Faulkner. He threw himself into the works of Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, and John Updike.
But when he started his professional career, Rammelkamp headed down a different path in life.
“For years I worked in IT, the final 20 at the Social Security Administration, disaster recovery, emergency preparedness, COOP plans,” Rammelkamp said.
Then he picked up a position on the adjunct faculty at the community college in Essex for about 10 years, to teach writing
and literature. He is now the prose editor for BrickHouse Books in Baltimore, where he works with local legend Clarinda Harriss, a Towson University professor emerita and editor of New Poets Series (BrickHouse Books’ previous incarnation).
Rammelkamp still cozies up with literature just for fun. He follows authors Roddy Doyle,
David Mitchell, and poetry collections. “Any new collection by George Bilgere or Denise Duhamel, for instance, I’m sure to request a review copy,” he said.
He was inspired to write his own literature because “writing helps me make sense of my life, my world,” Rammelkamp said. “I enjoy working with other writers and editors.”
Rammelkamp’s repertoire includes collections of historical and biographical poems. His works include “Fusen Bakudan,” a look at World War II Japanese balloon bombs and missionaries in a leper colony in Vietnam; “Mata Hari: Eye of the Day,” which follows the famous femme fatale World War I spy; “American Zeitgeist,” about William Jennings Bryan; and “Jack Tar’s Lady Parts,” which tells the tale of female sailors in the British Royal Navy. The poems, in all of his books, are soliloquies in the voices of historical and fictional characters.
His newest work, “Catastroika” highlights a century of Russian history. It focuses on Grigory Rasputin, the Romanovs’ spiritual adviser.
The monologues alternate between Maria Rasputin, the mad monk’s daughter who became a lion tamer for Ringling Brothers, and a fictional Russian Jew who immigrates to Baltimore. It was published May 1 by Apprentice House Press at Loyola University Maryland.
Rammelkamp’s synagogue has been particularly supportive of him.
For his part, Rammelkamp is an active participant in Beth Am’s Poetry Shabbat service. For the past decade, congregants join between Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot when the Song of Moses is read in the Parshat Haazinu.
“I’ve been fortunate to participate in all of them, and for the past several years, have coordinated the readings,” said Rammelkamp. “I’ve also been fortunate to be involved in the annual Purim spiel, both as a writer and a performer.”
Looking forward, Rammelkamp will publish a new collection later this year called “Ugler Lee,” dedicated to his late brothers and parents. “You could call it elegiac, I guess,” he said.
He’s also working on poems about psychedelics. He’s interested in the “mind control”
CIA program of the 1950s, about using “entheogens” for spiritual insight.
Most immediately, he’s just trying to get through quarantine.
“In some ways, since I’m retired, there’s not a great deal of difference, except I no longer have access to a pool for my morning swim, and I wear a mask whenever I’m out in public,” he said. In addition to streaming Shabbat in his pajamas or joining a wise-aging group with Beth Am online, he loves to participate in poetry readings online.
“Oy, I’m adjusting!”