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” bear witness to life in the face of over 688,000 and counting COVID casualties 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.”
Earlier this year, in the midst of winter, a call for submissions went out to local Brattleboro poets from the organizers of Poems Around Town, a committee comprised of Write Action members Arlene Distler, Andy Burrows, Barbara Morrison, and Toni Ortner, to submit poems that were written during the most intense lockdown phase of “the time of Covid.” Poems were written between March, 2020 and March 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, 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, 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.
“Poems In The Time of Covid” may be found at Everyone’s Books and online at writeaction.org