"remember what it was like/when it was safe/to hold you?"
As our society continues to ebb and flow amongst this strange pandemic sea, we are finding ourselves once more at some unknown precipice: where we must confront our new lives and who we have to become. As more and more of the population is vaccinated against COVID-19 and restrictions are lifted all around us, what we will return to find?
Even if you left poetry alone for months, or if poetry tumbled from your memory as if from a sieve, it is still out there somewhere, mushrooming from every dark and lonely and unkempt place. Poetry is still alive and well, pandemic be damned.
One project that developed in March 2020 was PandemicPoems.org. Poet Kate Belew began writing poetry with friends over email, which soon grew into her collaborating with strangers virtually to write new poems together and publishing them on her website. Belew was approached by The Poetry Society of New York and asked to collaborate on a long-form poetry experiment featuring 103 sonnets. As PSNY explains:
PSNY and Pandemic Poems strung these sonnets together, one after the other, into a sonnet crown (or "corona")…We proposed to Kate the concept of an epic sonnet crown not just because of the “corona” element, but because a sonnet is a poem with a problem to solve. We hope that together we all could write our way through this crisis, dig until we found the line that helped us remember where we were and what we learned.
You can read the entire piece here, but this is one of my favorites by Saki Wang and Teresa Mettela:
Days bleed, and when the stars appear, they grieve. Endless banter, gone with morning sunlight -- I've learned to cover memory unto shirtsleeve. Fairy dust on wooden floorboards, aimless, sits at the edge of my shadow, challenging my wholeness. picked apart by the pieces of us. I thought the light and stucco alone is enough, but through the looking glass I see bodies, a barrel of bruised pears, pried through the sniper- moon, sending apologies to the sky. The stars had never willed to be there. Can you separate fiction from gospel? A red-winged bird has sunk into the ceiling. A firing squad would at least be quick.
All of these isolated voices came together to create new collective breaths of fresh air; this work reminded me of how I’ve personally latched onto poetry, art, and collaboration to push myself through the coronavirus era.
I didn’t start this week thinking I’d write a pandemic-inspired piece, but honestly, how could any of my work avoid the pandemic’s influence? As writers our daily lives and emotions become entangled in our work, often unbeknownst to us. My everyday encounters, conversations, thoughts, and feelings all become threads that weave my pieces together.
Truthfully, I have been too exhausted mentally and emotionally to write consistently as of late. A year-long global pandemic, new full-time job, and an abundance of screen-time has worn me thin, so you could say the theme this week chose itself:
Spring in Cathedral Park
you pick a shady spot, noon along the riverfront underneath the sea-foam bridge where the graffiti is a roadmap and everyone breathes easy— and it cannot touch us here. embraces replaced with lingering eyes while a song somewhere carries over the water: settles on the skin, distance closes in as it always has— just as the tide, or the mist or the crack in pavement, or the mud soaking through the picnic blanket, or the time lost to time and the way we’ve worn down— remember what it was like when it was safe to hold you? in this new place, under this new sun, we find our arms are open; and it cannot touch us here.
I began this piece because I wanted to remember how it felt to lie in the almost-summer sun, but it became a piece centered on longing: to shake hands, to hug, to hold once again in this new world we are creating for each other. How am I writing my way through this crisis? Invariably, through the documentation of who I am now, the parts of life I miss, the things I hope to do soon…and despite life’s push and pull, I hope to keep writing it all down for you.
Write Your Own
This week, I ask you to write a poem on the topic we have often tried to distract ourselves from: the pandemic. Begin by asking yourself a couple questions:
How has this time period shaped you? Who were you before, and who are you now?
What are things that you enjoyed before, but are unable to do now?
What are you hopeful for?
Use these questions as a bridge to begin a piece centering on you or your current emotional state. This could even be a poem you reserve for your diary or journal rather than sharing, like a personal reflection of sorts. Use this prompt as a way to process the difficult emotions that you have felt or faced during this time.
I know it’s been some time since my last newsletter, but yes, I’ve still been writing! Thank you for your patience as I get back into the swing of weekly poetry craft. I hope to have another “hive poem” on Instagram soon, so feel free to follow me there if you want to suggest a type of verse or words for an upcoming word bank.
I appreciate that you’re here to read what I’ve crafted each week, and I’d love to hear from you! Feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org anytime to offer feedback, ask questions, or even to suggest future topics to discuss in this newsletter.
I hope you’re enjoying the spring— how is the weather where you are?