Poetry for a Pandemic: Honoring National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month, serving as a reminder of the power of words to bring hope, peace, calm, and solace during challenging times. During a pandemic such as the one we’ve been going through, poetry has the power to provide healing and serve as a source of self-reflection. There’s a certain immediacy about poetry, making it a wonderfully mindful practice. Whether we’re reading or writing poetry, it forces us to pay attention, and at the same time, it connects us as human beings.

In the early stages of the pandemic, we had no idea how long the quarantine would last. We thought perhaps for a month or two, and then like everything else, we assumed that it would pass. Most of us thought we’d enjoy our summer holidays that were planned for 2020, but that never happened. Our lives went from a sense of busyness to a forced sense of quietude.

In pre-pandemic days, we’d scurry around from one meeting or event to the next, having difficulty making time for what brought us joy. Then, schools began closing; and stores, restaurants, and offices closed. People found themselves in an unprecedented lockdown, and solitude became our best friend. We had to learn how to be ourselves, something challenging for those who need human interaction. But in many ways, life became less complicated. This alone time left space for looking inward to determine what was important to us–what we wanted to keep and what we wanted to let go of.

When one is contemplative or looking within, it’s a perfect time to turn to both journal and poetry writing as a way to find words for our feelings. For years, writing and reading poetry has been my way to navigate difficult or chaotic times. This past year has been no different. Poetry uses minimalistic and succinct language to express the feelings and thoughts that might have otherwise been difficult to express. In essence, poetry is the voice of the soul.

Even though I had the urge to write prose during this pandemic, there were times when the words just wouldn’t flow–I felt a lack of inspiration. That’s when I turned to poetry, which can cure creative blockages. Many of my colleagues have also recently complained of having short attention spans. Reading and writing poetry can help keep us motivated and focused.

According to Robert Pesich, a poet, scientist, and president of the San Jose Poetry Center, historically, people have turned to poetry during national crises. “We saw this during both World Wars, in the late ’60s with civil rights, and we’re seeing it now,” he says. “Because of the grief that has befallen us, there is a hunger for a nuanced, emotionally forward form of communication.”

Here is an emotional poem I wrote to express my frustration in the midst of the pandemic:

Pandemic Recipes

On my poet’s stove today
there are ten pots, each with
a word or a metaphor that stews
and awaits the next clear day.

Covid has robbed me
of my focus–the ability to string words
into a symphonic story, something
so easy for so many years.

I keep tossing ingredients
into the pot that calls me,
stir it, taste it, but then notice
something missing, as I loiter
to my office hoping to find words
along the way.

For solace, I hold my feather in one hand,
sage in another, but for the first time,
their energy repels me.

I want to pack my bag for some island,
but all flights are blocked or forbidden,
and my wallet shows only leather,
no green bills peeking out.

Outside my window,
the hummingbird flutters
near my bougainvillea,
and the lion fountain spits water from its mouth.

Nature is oblivious to pandemics,
and on my stove I continue
to simmer future stories.

There are many poems that touch upon difficult times, remind us that everything is temporary, and assure us that challenging times will eventually pass. Here are some poems that have helped inspire and nurture me during this pandemic:

Still I Rise by Maya Angelou

The Laughing Heart by Charles Bukowski

Kindness by Shihab Nye

I Worried by Mary Oliver

Won’t You Celebrate with Me by Lucille Clifton

Good Bones by Maggie Smith

Let Evening Come by Jane Kenyon

The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry

Perhaps the World Ends Here by Joy Harjo

It’s especially important during this pandemic to discover ways to find peace and solace while connecting with others who are sharing our feelings and experiences. Poetry is one of the ways in which we can accomplish this. Poetry can help us feel less alone.

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