A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts.
This week, the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic hit home for most Americans when almost all sports were cancelled, most schools and universities were closed, and everyone but the immortal youth began to practice “social distancing” in a desperate attempt to flatten the rate-of-infection curve and prevent our absurd, profit-driven healthcare system from being completely overwhelmed. I think we can expect all forms of online activity to blossom in the coming weeks, including literary blogging and all manner of social-media-enabled reading and writing exercises. (Scroll down a bit for an invitation to one promising, free daily workshop that Trish Hopkinson shared.) In the meantime, here’s how the Anglophone poetry blogosphere is adjusting to this new reality.
In the dream I stood facing a window in an empty house, arranging some plates that were not mine in an unfamiliar room. I turned, and saw our late friend Jenny, sitting on a couch or bench, dressed in white, her hair long and wavy as it was many years ago. She smiled her inimitable smile, and we talked, but I can’t remember our words or what they were about — what I remember are her face, the whiteness and emptiness of the room, and its calmness.
After I woke up, I knew this dream had something to do with the virus and our fears of death, but that it also had to do with the endurance of friendship and love. Today I called several friends and wrote to others; my father and another friend called us; I made soup and cornbread for lunch and sent some across the city to a dear friend who’s been sick with seasonal flu. I thought about our cathedral and its motto, “An Oasis in the Heart of Montreal,” and what that could mean not just to our community but to the city at large, if we can manage to be creative and innovative in our outreach even while regular services are suspended. It was a sunny day, a bit warmer than usual, and my husband and I went out for a long walk. This evening, in the new, longer-lasting light, we ventured out onto our nearly snowless terrace with our gin-and-tonics, and toasted each other and the coming spring before scooting back inside.Beth Adams, Hermit Diary, Montreal. 2
Before sitting down to post today, I was struggling with how honest to be. I don’t want to add to the alarm and panic, and I don’t want anyone to feel that they should need to worry about me. But my work week last week was one of the hardest I have ever been through. Almost all of our volunteers have been furloughed or have left of their own accord, and my job, which I loved and and was good at, has morphed into something else entirely, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to be coming back in any recognizable form any time soon. We are under the Emergency Command structure at the hospital, and all hands are on deck for dealing with the coming influx. There is a barrage of COVID-19 information coming at me all day, every day, and we are in constant reactive mode and working long hours. It’s extremely draining. I am fighting hard not to sink into a depression. I miss the familiar faces I’m used to seeing every day, and I miss the gym with a huge lump in my throat. I had no idea how much of a mental and emotional haven it had become for me, and not having it in my life during this time of extreme stress has made everything that much worse. I’m irritable and short-tempered, I’m drinking too much coffee because I want to sleep all of the time if I don’t, and I don’t have any appetite. I’m crying almost every day, and that’s normally rare for me.Kristen McHenry, Hard Times and Hard Honesty, Two-Fisted Escape Artist, Sweatin’ to the 80’s
The loss of the familiar is very real, and I am grieving. But I am pushing myself to adjust to this new normal, to keep going and to be strong because I love my community and I love my hospital, and I was put here to serve—and serve I will do. This not the only time in history that communities have gone through huge, reality-bending changes in their daily lives, and I take inspiration in the toughness of those who have gone before. Many have been through far worse throughout history, and when we’re on the other side of this, I will remain standing.
As a poet, I’m used to being a little bit low-profile, but today I had a front-page story on Salon.com, “Marriage in the Time of Coronavirus,” a place I’ve wanted to publish in since its inception. The story in my perspective on living with my husband in a stressful quarantine situation, with several chronic illnesses, in the epicenter of the Coronavirus Pandemic. I’ve put some of the details of how it’s been coping with ER visits and empty shelves here right next to the hospital where the majority of the US deaths from Coronavirus have occurred on this blog, but this is in the form of a lyric essay hybridized with journalism. I hope it is helpful and gives you some perspective on how it may be in other US cities in the next weeks to come.
Just for some perspective, in my state, there have been 40 deaths and 642 confirmed positive cases of coronavirus, most of them in King County. Most of the deaths have happened in my neighborhood. It’s not an abstraction for us. This week, the zoo, the Japanese garden, and 50 restaurants closed, as well as the winery next to my house, the beautiful Chateau Ste Michelle. All public and private schools were closed, and universities, and churches. Meetings of over 250 are forbidden.Jeannine Hall Gailey, Love in the Time of Coronavirus on Salon, Two Poems in EcoTheo, and Getting an MRI with Flowers in the Epicenter
It was during evening drive time I was thinking what a hit culture in the country is taking. I know for example our symphony is canceling events. I assume theaters are as well. So too I would think that local poetry readings are being canceled. I certainly will not be making the rounds and this is sad but the right thing to do.
In an effort to keep poetry before the public during this dark period, I plan to share on social media some of my favorite poets and poems. The same with music. It is at times like these we most need poems and music to speak to our soul. I hope others will do the same.
In closing I would encourage people to rely on the CDC as well as state and local health departments for information concerning issues related to your own health. Please keep in mind it is important to consider your own health, but those you come in contact with. Even if you have a mild case, realize you may be placing others with high risk factors in serious danger.Michael Allyn Wells, Entering Culturally Dark Days Ahead.
When my students asked me last week–during our final in-person classes, as it turns out–how I thought the virus would develop or whether W&L would switch to online instruction soon, I offered guesses with the caveat, “But I’m not an authority on this. My thoughts about poetry are worth something; otherwise I’m just an average person who reads the news.”
These days I don’t feel like an authority on poetry, either–at least not about how to generate enthusiasm for poems when most-in person gatherings are canceled. My fifth full-length collection, The State She’s In, officially launches this week. I’m proud of this book and have been laboring hard to set up readings this spring, basically performing the job of a part-time publicist as well as full-time professor. They’re dropping away fast. Pre-launch copies have been available from the publisher, Tinderbox Editions, since AWP (I think the discount code AWP2020 still works), but I wasn’t able to sign it there, and I just postponed my local book party, too. These cancellations absolutely need to happen, never mind all that shopping I did for goody bags, stickers, chocolate eggs, and pink ribbon. Chris says don’t worry, it’s just a delay, I can still do those events latter. I hope he’s right, but in the meantime I’m trying to figure out what I CAN do.
I’d love your ideas, but what’s currently on my docket: I have a few guest-blog-type-things in the works as well as possible reviewers, and of course I’ll use social media (although I’m limiting my own time on FB and Twitter lately). I got some new author photos done, below. My copies of The State She’s In arrived a few days ago and this week I’ll be sending them where they need to go.
My latest brainstorm is to use my blog to promote other poetry collections launching into this virus-blasted landscape. Effort on behalf of others tends to boomerang, right? I’ll definitely focus on books from little presses, not the ones already attaining media spotlight. I’m currently thinking I’ll begin each post with my own micro-review, maybe just a few sentences describing what attracts me to the work, then ask three questions of the author. I’m pondering what might be good questions to ask, not too run-of-the-mill. If you have notions about how to do this, or you want to draw my attention to your OWN new book, I’d like to hear from you, so just reply below or on FB or by email (wheelerlm at wlu dot edu). Digital ARCs and review copies would be welcome, and I’ve already ordered and pre-ordered some books I’m interested in. My plan is to start off with The State She’s In then feature as many new books as I can, maybe one a week.Lesley Wheeler, Virtual launches and figuring out how to help
Sunday wears a beaky maskRebecca Loudon, corona 2
stuffed with sweet herbs and flowers
meant to hide the smell of sickness
my son has the first apocalypse dream
we drive to the beach at dusk
and talk about ghosts
until I cry but I keep the tears
inside my eyelids
I dream a conga line of men
in my yard dancing their way into the ocean
dropping one by one
I am ripe and my blood is high
The burrowing owls stand and watch closely as I walk by; have I come to threaten them? No? This is the anxiety of death that we all know. The burrowing owls, small, colored like the earth, like the cold ground, relax a little as I pass. I can see this. O cold night, let them know peace and comfort, these little beings who look at me and think of danger.James Lee Jobe, The burrowing owls stand and watch closely as I walk by
This morning I walked outside, and everything seemed so normal. In South Florida, it’s neither warm nor cool, a lovely 71 degrees at 5:15 a.m. when I headed to spin class. I heard crickets and not much traffic noise. All of my neighbors were sleeping in their dark houses.
I thought about how it was like the days before a hurricane when we know something is happening, but we don’t know how big it will be or how much it will affect us. And yet, everything seems so normal, so quiet.
Is it my animal sense telling me that something bad is coming our way or residue from reading too much news? I don’t really think I have an internal barometer; I’ve been notably wrong in my premonitions too many times to think that I have much in the way of a sixth sense.
And yet, suddenly my brain shifts into poetry mode, and I find myself grateful because it’s been a few weeks. I can always reassure myself about why I’m not writing poems (travel, work pace, tiredness), but I’m always glad when I start again.
I wrote a poem before I headed to spin class, and then on the way home, I realized that incantation rhymes with lamentation. I was thinking about writers during past plague times, like Chaucer and Boccaccio. My poem contains this line: “Who will be our Chaucer now?”
As I write these blog posts, I think about historians and scholars hundreds of years from now–will they appreciate the work we all did recording life in these times? Will they scroll through all of our tweets?Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A Journal of the Plague Year
My commute to my day job was effortless this morning. The roads were nearly clear and traffic was almost nonexistent. As someone who generally drives a minimum of two hours a day, this would normally be a cause of celebration. But these open roads are the result in numerous Silicon Valley folks working from home in the face of the corona virus — a reality that left me melancholy.
Turns out, nearly empty roads are a strange, haunting sight.
This month, I started a challenge to write 30 poem drafts in 30 days (a challenge I normally do in April during National Poetry Month, but I got confused and started it early, so here we are). I found a nice rhythm to the work at the start of the month, but have since fallen behind and am having to play catchup.
As more and more news flows in about all the messed up goings on in the world, the writing of poetry or fiction feels like a frivolous thing. How could putting words on a page possibly help anyone or anything?Andrea Blythe, On Writing In Stressful Times
Yesterday, I was happily puttering in the vegetable garden, prepping soil and setting up raised beds and sowing peas. We had a visitor who is 26 years old and not a gardener, so I teased her by saying, “If the Apocalypse happens, come to us–I’ll have food!”
“This is the Apocalypse,” she responded. Joking, sort of, not really. She’s anxious, and I understand. When I was between 21 and 26 years old (and living on almost no money in New York City), a virus swept through and rapidly killed some of my beautiful, talented, young friends–a virus about which medical science had no firm understanding and few ways to diagnose, screen, or treat. And no vaccine.
It was frightening. There were also the hostage crisis in Iran, gas shortages, and a rise in nationalist and fundamentalist/apocalyptic/anti-feminist rhetoric that led to a polarized presidential election and divisiveness among neighbors (all of which was partly the inspiration for Margaret Atwood‘s The Handmaid’s Tale).
Am I less frightened now? Yes. Does that make me less cautious about “social distancing” and public gatherings? No–although I would say I am perhaps less freaked out than most people I know. We went to the local diner last evening; I met a friend at a coffee shop. My workplace has asked staff to go to our offices, so I’ll be there tomorrow even though the students will not. They are finishing the semester online, as are so many other university students.
Looking back at the past couple of years, it seems we live in a time of plague and fire and politically difficult situations; but that’s the way the world has ever been. Many times have felt like end times to those enduring the uncertainties that come with changed routines and dangerous events, natural and human-created. Here we are, raking the garden, hoping there’ll be harvest.Ann E. Michael, Normality: it’s not a thing
During these days of self-imposed exile, be careful not to fall into fits of depression, don’t spend your time composing mood music for the dead.
Keep your mind clear, stay informed, don’t allow your thoughts to become a graveyard of propaganda.
Share song, wit, art & supplies. Be sure to wash your hands, but don’t whitewash your emotions.
Use this time for mindful self-reflection: connect with the tangibles & intangibles of your life, even if you have to wear a surgical mask in the process.
If you’re able to hug a loved one free of any sanitizers or barriers, do so. It’ll provide you with health & happiness beyond measure.
Offer compassion & understanding to those gripped by fear; these are strange days indeed.
Our bodies may be ill, but the potential for courage, reflection & realignment are alive & well.Rich Ferguson, Strange Days Indeed
If I were flippant, I’d be suggesting that magazine editors should be bracing themselves for colossal numbers of virus-related poems heading for their inboxes over the next few months. The only advantage of this, of course, is that such an influx might at least make a change from the typical themes that follow a British winter: floods, storms, deluges and everything water-related.
However, if I were serious, I’d be mulling over the cancellation of Prowein, the major wine fair in Düsseldorf, thinking about my customers’ fears for their businesses and their health when I visited them last week, worrying myself about the vulnerability of people who are close to me.
Either way, poetry is a constant, reassuring companion, a counterpoint to rolling newsfeeds and social media, a bridge between our outer and inner worlds, emotional sustenance in these disturbing times…Matthew Stewart, A bridge between worlds
I am trying to focus on the positives–various times when all I’ve wanted was a stretch of time when I had no plans and no need to leave the apartment (albeit it under ore desirable circumstances.) The writing and art projects I’d be able to tend to. Even if I’m spending part of my day working on library stuff, it’s cutting two hours of commuting out of my life that are ripe for more interesting things. We’ve also been trying to cordon off time to work on some A of R writing projects that never seems to happen in the chaos of our department daily.Kristy Bowen, pressing pause
Instead of giving in to the panic that switches to B-roll of an apocalypse movie..I am going to think of it as pressing a pause button on real life. As such, there are things that do not matter in pause time. Everyone just needs to sit very still. Sort of like when in elementary school, the teacher would force everyone to quiet the fuck down by putting their heads on their desks. All of you, heads on your desks. Stop hoarding more than you need. Help the elderly and compromised and check in to make sure they are okay. Read a dam book or watch some Netflix. Chill the fuck out. The government, which locally is pretty sane, nationally a trash fire, needs to make it easier for people to feel secure and get what they need–food, supplies, medication…
Below is the information from Marj Hahne for her upcoming 30-minute daily workshop, starting tomorrow!
Are you socially distanced? Self-quarantined? Cabin-feverish? A little po-lonely?
“Literature is the most agreeable way of ignoring life,” wrote poet Fernando Pessoa (The Book of Disquiet), so let’s ignore life and stay healthy by reading and writing poems alone together.
For FREE. For freedom.
POEMUNIZE: Your Daily Shot
Join in on any or all days.
30 minutes a day, 7 days a week
Monday, March 16 thru Sunday, April 5th
11:30 AM–12:00 PM (Eastern) / 10:30–11:00 AM (Central) / 9:30–10:00 AM (Mountain) / 8:30–9:00 AM (Pacific)
We’ll read & briefly discuss one poem, then write (verse or prose) from a prompt tailored from that poem.
REGISTER: anytime during the 3-week period:
*Your registration-confirmation email will contain an access URL, which is the same for all sessions.
*You’ll receive an automated reminder email an hour before each session, containing that access URL.
PLEASE feel free to share this with your writing peeps all around this toilet-paper-panicked nation!Trish Hopkinson, Free workshop – “POEMUNIZE: Your Daily Shot” with Marj Hahne, Mar. 16 – April 5 @ 11:30 am EST
The Corona Virus is going to require a lot of change, compromise, innovative thinking. A lot of writers will be losing out on work and money because events like readings, workshops and book launches will be cancelled. The writing community on Twitter is trying to support each other, offering to post information on each other’s books and other threads to build camaraderie. Poetry Ireland is posting daily prompts, yeah! Bookshops are offering online sales, the Toledo Poetry Museum is doing an online open mic and I’ve even heard the suggestion of an online festival. Hopefully, by being isolated we can develop more connections.Gerry Stewart, Interesting Times
This week, our writing group has moved online to avoid gathering in a very public venue. It was a fun change, but we all missed being together. I hope this is a short change and that those who are in self-isolation can find ways to get through. We’re in this together.
I am filling myself
so full of poetry
in these last years
that when I dieTom Montag, I AM FILLING MYSELF
it won’t matter
that I’m dead.
The hungry stars
will still get what
they need from me.
Mostly, it was heartening to realize that my feed was full of messages that all said some version of this: We need to do what we’re doing and bear the costs of these actions not to reduce our own risks, but to reduce the risks to others. The ratio of those messages to photos of empty toilet paper aisle shelves was about a million to one, and for the first time in a long time I’ve felt something I’d almost forgotten the feeling of: Hope.
As I’m watching the world around me shift to accommodate the shape of something we’ve never experienced here, there is something that feels almost holy in this moment. I have been thinking for a long time that it would probably take some kind of disaster to turn us around on the path we’ve been hurtling down. That is the opportunity inherent in this unfolding disaster that will touch all of us in some way, if it hasn’t already.
My deep, fervent hope today is that this will propel us to remember how inter-connected we all are, to reach out to each other rather than erect walls between us, to uphold ideas and ideals that have always been the best part of us, and to act more from love than from fear.
We’ll all have to figure out the best ways for us to do that. Right now, I’m focused on staying home as much as possible and supporting those in my personal circle without creating more risk for those outside it. I might write here more often, once I get a little equilibrium back. Mostly, though, you can probably find me (but please, don’t come too close looking) painting a wall or cleaning a garage or stabbing canvas with a needle or sharing something through Facebook–a tidbit of useful information or something funny to make you smile.
Because it has always been true that we also serve, who only stand and wait.Rita Ott Ramstad, A post about the thing with feathers
Last night, after reading frightening coverage about this country’s abysmal preparation for Covid-19, with potential death tolls estimated to reach 1 to 1.5 million Americans, I dreamed about a family member just outside my window who couldn’t hear or see me calling him. Even in my dream I wondered which one of us wasn’t alive. I also dreamed about rotting food that grew into a malevolent presence. (And I dreamed about pastel-colored baby llamas…)
I woke up to cancel and respond to cancellation notices for all sorts of workshops, events, and get-togethers. Tentatively my classes for April are still a go-status, but I realize that may change. So much is changing.
Like nearly everyone else, I’m taking in more news than I normally do. I’ve heard experts say this pandemic is the event of a century. I’ve heard experts say this will be generation-defining. […]Laura Grace Weldon, Mutual Aid In The Time Of Covid-19
The next few months will likely test us, maybe test us severely. Through whatever we suffer, this pandemic may help us see we are interconnected beyond our own fingertips, beyond our own borders. May we rise to our best selves, creative and caring, no matter what. May we keep up one another’s spirits as the people of Siena, Italy do — singing from their homes and apartments during the mandated quarantine.
even a pandemicBill Waters, The rising sun
can’t make it stop!
the rising sun