April is National Poetry Month. As a poet myself (my first published poem in college landed me $7.00), I turn to poetry for insight, humor, provocation, poignancy, controversy, comfort, outrage, …
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April is National Poetry Month. As a poet myself (my first published poem in college landed me $7.00), I turn to poetry for insight, humor, provocation, poignancy, controversy, comfort, outrage, love, passion, intelligence, goofiness, clarity and confusion.
So it’s no wonder that in times like these – and, let’s face it, even as the coronavirus rages, other societal evils are not on hiatus – in times like these, poetry soothes and satisfies, creates awareness, and spurs action.
My earliest memories of poetry are found in a slim, now dog-eared and well-thumbed volume by Robert Louis Stevenson called “A Child’s Garden of Verses” first published in 1885 and gifted to me and my sister by our mother more than 50 years ago. There are poems such as “Bed in Summer” that I can recite by memory, among many other favorites. If you want to share the joys of literature with kids while they’re home, this book is a good place to start.
Fine new work is already emerging about the coronavirus – read Rich Uhrlaub’s “For a Corona We May Die,” which he wrote when stunned by youthful disregard while a loved one died in assisted living: “While beautiful young idiots drink beer / And play outside in sun and sand and sea, / Their elders hide indoors and gasp in fear.” (Rich is a fellow member of a poetry group in which, unfortunately, I now participate only sporadically.)
I asked other writers what poems they recommend right now … and why. John, another member of our group, says “Pandemic” by Lynn Ungar works for him because it faces the present crisis head on and presents it as an opportunity: “ … when your body has become still, / reach out with your heart. / Know we are connected in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.”
Cassidy, a writer in an online poetry class with me, says she’s reading poems such as “To Be of Use” by Marge Piercy: “ … people who submerge / in the task … / move in a common rhythm / when the food must come in and the fire must be put out.” Cassidy says, “I take comfort in knowing there are good people out there, in grocery stores and fire departments, as well as in hospitals and pharmacies who are doing their work. I’m inspired to do my part and stay home.”
Carrie is a fellow writer in the Lighthouse Writers Workshop year-long Poetry Collective program. Carrie recommends “Storm Warnings” by Adriene Rich and tells me, “I particularly like the metaphor of the storm for any difficult time in which we are faced with much that is out of our control.”
Adrienne Rich describes being unable to control the weather as well as having ways to protect ourselves: “This is our sole defense against the season; / these are the things we have learned to do / who live in troubled regions.”
Carrie, who facilitates writing workshops for cancer patients, says, “I find this poem hopeful without being overly sentimental or unrealistic. I love that she brings it down to what we can do in our personal spaces … so appropriate right now.” Other poets Carrie suggests for difficult times are Ada Limon, Naomi Shihab Nye, Mary Oliver, and Wendell Berry. “They all speak to resilience,” she says, “the value of darkness, and the comfort both the natural world and community hold for us.”
For me, I find myself turning back to the “Garden of Verses,” and my mother, and my childhood. And – perhaps notably – Christina Rosetti’s 1947 poem comes frequently unbidden to mind: “Who has seen the wind? / Neither you nor I: / But when the trees bow down their heads / The wind is passing by.”
Let’s bow our heads but stand strong. Stay safe, my friends.
Andrea Doray is a writer who would like to know where you are finding comfort. Contact Andrea at email@example.com.
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