In our time of Covid, a meaningful shared experience

‘Poems in the Time of Covid’ testifies not only to the wealth of talented poets locally but also to the depth of their humanity and compassion

WESTMINSTER — The poet W.H. Auden wrote in his poem “In Memory of W.B. Yeats” that “poetry makes nothing happen.” But it does, one could argue to the contrary, when it moves a person to a greater awareness of the experience of being alive.

Many of the poems in Poems in the Time of Covid witness to life in the face of over 688,000 Covid casualties and counting nationwide.

They comprise the vital expression of local voices that echo in the streets and purlieus of Brattleboro and beyond with imagery, reports, conclusions, minutiae, elegies, memories, revelations, and news that stays news in an unprecedented time when we need to hear even the slightest whispers from each other.

Earlier this year, in the midst of winter, a call for submissions went out to local Brattleboro poets from the organizers of Poets Around Town, a committee comprised of Write Action members Arlene Distler, Andy Burrows, Barbara Morrison, and Toni Ortner, to write and then submit poems on the topic of writing “in the time of Covid.”

The response from myriad local poets was impressive indeed.

After several months of collecting submissions for this literary venture, the above organizers chose 56 poems for publication in the Write Action–sponsored anthology, Poems in the Time of Covid, Brattleboro 2021.

Although this anthology was published just recently, the poems that appear in it were initially displayed in storefront windows around town, which has now become a Vermont tradition during National Poetry Month in April in several towns around the state, including Montpelier, St. Johnsbury, and Randolph.

The Write Action organizers of Poems in the Time of Covid made the wise decision to extend their celebration of local poets beyond April, however, recognizing the timeless efficacy of poetry to enlighten, educate, unite, and console its readers in times of crisis and extremity.

* * *

Many poems in this anthology resonate deeply with memorable imagery, fierce economy, and lyrical witness to both loss and the surprising wonder of the ordinary. A few examples worth quoting here, although there are many more:

* * *

§Warm the seed bed by the hearth.

§What faith we improvise in March!

§November's bones. December's shards.

§Beauty in disguise is March.

§Sap boils above the flaming arch.

§Sweet with dreams we rise in March.

§Inoculate my empty arm.

§A viral prayer: Good bye in March.

§-from “The Charm of March: 2021” by Verandah Porche

* * *

§“The Gift...which wasn't much,

§but it was all I had-a trembling fledgling

§from my cupped hands to yours

* * *

§as you held it/ the trembling ceased,

§its eyes grew bright

§It looked around and began to wonder

* * *

§how to fly.”

§-from “The Gift” by Nancy Olson

* * *

§Grief is a black parrot in my throat.

§He doesn't sing-he croaks.

* * *

§His claws shuffle sideways. Nothing

§can stop his ruffled dance, his grip

§on his precarious perch, a wooden dowel

§as frail as any bone in your body.

§-from “Untitled” by Tim Mayo

* * *

§Oh dear what can the matter be

§No fair, I can't go to the fair

§I can't go anywhere

§Because something I can't see

§Is floating around in the air.

§-from “Johnny at the Fair” by Lynn Martin

* * *

§We marvel at the Spring Warbler singing,

§'Look at me,' 'Look at me,' 'Look at me.'”

§-from “Walking During the Pandemic” by Jill Hinckley

* * *

§My own playful body. Sweet bijoux of sweat

§Rose into uninfected morning's odor.

§Who knew that what my parents labeled older

§Meant this strange state?

§Not then but then not yet.”

§-from “Spring Poem in the Season of Corona” by Sydney Lea

* * *

The inspired array of poems in Poems in the Time of Covid testifies not only to the wealth of talented local poets in Brattleboro and several of its surrounding towns but also to the depth of their humanity and compassion for their neighbors, family, friends, and even strangers.

They sustain us in this way with emotional as well as spiritual sustenance that makes something happen we can only identify as meaningful shared experience, despite their literal differences from our own particular experiences.

They perform a kind of verbal magic in this way that unifies and uplifts us simultaneously.

In the time of Covid, this is an especially invaluable gift.

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