Poetry as Food for the Soul (various Indelible poets)

As part of a project on the therapeutic role of poetry during the pandemic, Indelible‘s poetry contributors were asked whether poetry, including poetry events, has helped them cope with the pandemic. Here are some shared experiences:

Debra Kaufman:

“Oh, by all means, yes! First the shock of it, and then recognizing that this was an unprecedented phenomena, I decided to be more intentionally present. Every morning I read poetry as I drank my coffee and watched the birds out my window. On my morning walk I always tuck a small notebook and pen in a pocket and jot down whatever comes to me, an observation or a memory or an emotion or thought. The pandemic shone a harsh light on the inequities in our healthcare system (and society) and the anxiety was sky high, especially capping the Trump administration’s final year. My mother was in isolation in assisted living and was dying, with no one able to visit, so that made everything heavier and more grievous. Reading and writing poetry connected me to something larger than me, and reminded me of the beauty of the souls of others.”

D.R. James:

“I’m an introvert and loner anyway, but the pandemic, having necessitated even more isolation and insulation than I usually experience, has caused poetry to play an even larger role in my life. I’ve been reading more poetry, especially that which comes via email and daily websites and is therefore often melancholic in response to the current scene, but writing more upbeat poetry myself. I tend to be contrary anyway, but I just find myself wanting to pay attention to the joy in the natural world out my large windows, which carries on no matter what, and in relationships with my few available family members and friends.”

Yahia Lababidi:

“In answer to your question, yes, reading and writing poetry is typically how I self-medicate — reducing anxiety, spreading me — and this has been doubly important during dread of  pandemic which has felt like a period of enforced mass meditation and intangible momento mori

The contemplation of poetry (my own and others) has helped me breathe easier as it is doing, now, for example — providing relief from pain/ mental anguish and giving purpose, meaning and hope to my days (“daze”).

In short, it has helped me focus on what’s important (offered a welcome seriously playful distraction) and even connected me to the Indestructible, realm of the Spirit. Poetry is how I pray.”

Bernard Pearson:

“The period of the pandemic has for me been the most fruitful in terms of my writing, obviously time alone has been one element. I am by nature a gregarious soul, so perhaps the reality of having fewer real people in my life  during lockdown has been the catalyst to spending more time with my imagination. In particular it has also brought about a lot of what might be seen as valedictory writing, in part due to my age, and also the presence of an existential threat i.e, the virus, it concentrates the mind somewhat.  Three literary events stand out for me, two remarkable Indelible events at which I felt a genuine connection across culture, life experience, and creative ability. I have never felt anything quite like it before, despite these occasions being virtual, they had a profound effect on me in a way that other ‘in the flesh’ networking however enjoyable had not. My horizons had been widened and my understanding of what writing really is about expanded. The other event was the launch of my first novel ‘Where the Willows End’  Once again The pandemic  at a terrible cost  to others and to some even in my own family  had given me the space to complete a long form story that I’d wanted to tell for many years  and only now within  the shadow of such a gathering storm was I able to complete.  So the disquiet  in the world has  been the backdrop to creativity.  It is interesting that other periods when I have  used writing as a way of coping have been during  periods of my own poor mental health,  A  more personal sense of inner impending doom had been  when some of the work I am least ashamed of has been produced.”

Lorette C. Luzajic:

“Being confined and in a state of heightened anxiety and fear meant taking refuge in introspection, in both reading and writing poetry. It was an opportunity to reflect on my own emotions and questions, but also to engage the bigger picture at the same time, take into account the world sharing the experience parallel to me. The pandemic was unique as an emergency because it was truly universal, and that truth contributed to my thoughts and my writing. Being able to connect with others through poetry readings or similar Zoom events has been a really important way to bond with other writers and to grow as a writer in a frightening circumstance.”

Steve Pottinger:

“My answer is a very definite ‘yes’. Poetry certainly helped me cope with the pandemic (though it wasn’t by any means the only thing which helped me through – exercise, getting out in the open air, and keeping busy also featured). Primarily, I’d say poetry helped me in that it allowed me to articulate my response to what was happening, and – as always – what I wrote often came as a surprise, an expression of a truth or an attitude that I’d not have been able to come to in everyday conversation. This was, and still remains, invaluable.

I think poetry does that a lot. It’s one of the things I love about it – it’s like a conversation with myself in which I’m always learning.”

Paul Jones:

“The pandemic coincided with my long planned retirement from university teaching. Talk about lucky timing. Yes I had plans to travel that have been postponed at best, but I had already restarted my alternative path from Information Science back to literature. My joke to my son was that I would have a next career that could be done from a hammock. As it turns out, I spend the days reading poetry — discovering new poets and rediscovering old — serving on the boards of three writing organizations, and writing and publishing poems. And of course in good weather from a hammock.”

Florence Nash:

“It has certainly been helpful that I’ve continued via Zoom to meet regularly with two poetry critique groups, preserving a valuable connection with like minds in a common pursuit. Also, this year has prompted a number of pandemic-related poems (which all seem to arrive in sonnet form — maybe indicative of a need for structure in a disordered world?).”

Christine Murray:

“Poetry has helped me greatly during the pandemic. I want to focus on one poem that stands as a microcosm of survival and historical exposition. Some years ago, I found a book by John Felstiner Paul Celan, Poet, Survivor, Jew. When I say found … it found me, by falling on my head in a friend’s house. A chapter in the book details the difficulties Felstiner had with the translation of Celan’s “Todesfuge” (“Death Waltz”). Felstiner presented his argumentation for rendering the poem in both English and German in the chapter A Fugue After Auschwitz (1944-45 ) / your ashen hair Shulamith detailing the difficulties with Celan’s writing in German, his mother-tongue. What emerged in Celan in “Todesfuge” was a monumental symphonic poem that encapsulated the Shoah and it has been rightly compared to Picasso’s “Gernika”. “Todesfuge” is an aural and symbolic encapsulation of the Holocaust. While we need history books, we also need human witness and art during times of turbulence and global cataclysm. Poetry teaches us that the human voice in all of its vulnerability and in the face of trauma can and will create beauty, thus, challenging Adorno’s comment regarding the creation of art after Auschwitz. I attended Pierre Joris’ event ‘On Translating Paul Celan” at Princeton during the pandemic. I feel that access to that event might not have been as available without the constraints that we live in now. We must acknowledge the trauma of pandemic while being aware that we are witnesses and creators within it.”

Carole Mora:

“Poetry reading and writing have always been a kind of refuge for me.  The surreal challenges of the recent year or so have thankfully been tempered by opportunities to also listen to readings of poetry by others, bringing a refreshing sense of reorientation, tethering, and needed connection to sensibilities and qualities of being that really matter.  These gatherings have provided an additional sense of mooring during these stormy, pandemic times. I’m so grateful for the varied silver linings poetry perpetually carries.”

Susan Porterfield:

“For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.

In a time of covid and social distancing, when so much has not happened or has stopped happening, for me, writing poetry, which is itself an isolating, lonely activity, has strangely connected me more to the closed-down world. “It survives,” and by doing so, helps me (us, the world?) to survive.  It truly is “a mouth,”  a way to interact in a still, more muted world. You know, during times of great stress or turmoil, people turn to poetry in ways they don’t otherwise do. It gives us “a mouth,” a way to understand what is happening and how, then, to cope.”

Ralph Earle

“The act of writing poetry helps me make sense of my experience as a human being, more so during times of stress, and  especially during the pandemic. During the early days, I wrote a poem a day, to deal with strangeness of the new circumstances (other poets of my acquaintance did the same). I discontinued this practice after about two months, when it started to feel stale and repetitive. Now that the pandemic experience has begun to integrate into my overall patterns of awareness, my newer poems reference it indirectly and as a part of a greater whole. 

As the pandemic progressed, I found comfort in online poetry events, which have become, like so many other online social events, a way to connect almost casually with like-minded people throughout the world, in ways that in ordinary times require time and travel and money.” 

Carly Brown:

“Poetry and specifically poetry events definitely have helped me cope with the pandemic. At several events, such as Indelible readings, I’ve seen fellow poets share their work, or even just their thoughts and musings, on the pandemic itself. Hearing this has on many occasions reminded me that I’m not alone in what I’m feeling: confused, uncertain, lonely etc. It’s really contributed to my sense of connectivity with other writers and other people generally, and that is a great help at a time of isolation.” 

Hedy Habra:

“It has been a struggle for me to write during the pandemic, especially during the first months filled with anxiety and concerns as we were estranged from family and friends. I started doubting the value of investing so much effort on my solitary craft. But as I tried to discipline myself to write on a regular basis, I felt a great sense of satisfaction every time a poem was finished. I’ve enjoyed participating in poetry events that connected me with friends and editors from all over the US and abroad. It has been extremely rewarding to make new friends and get to know a diversity of voices through these virtual gatherings that offered a network of support and solidarity. I think that the poetry we created during the pandemic enabled us to transcend the quotidian by living in alternate worlds and redefine ourselves. It is as though poetry allowed us to see ourselves reflected in these collected, disparate fragments as one would in an ever-expanding stained glass, creating a harmonious whole, encompassing time and space.”

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