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Poetry Creeps In

I write from the edge of March’s diving board. Tomorrow it will be April, and for many of us a second month of social distancing measures, unprecedented social uncertainty, and dark prospects.

Less than four weeks remains in my pregnancy and I watch the healthcare system wobbling from an uncomfortably close vantage. Before the next month is out, I will give birth. Unlike many patients whose conditions put them in repeated contact with our hospital doors, elevator buttons, and ventilation systems, I have a temporary condition. For the chronically ill, this turmoil is open-ended.

As I mentioned in my March 29 newsletter, the impact of coronavirus on our healthcare system – including on the lives of our healthcare workers – represents a colossal waste of humanity in a society so flush with misallocated wealth.

I’ve sought ways to write constructively about the pandemic. In the last month I’ve published a number of personal essays on different aspects of this crisis:

I’ve also turned increasingly to documenting our days in poetry. Since the beginning of the year, I’ve managed to maintain a goal of writing poems weekly – and this has only accelerated.

In fact, many of my prose pieces now have complementary poems. This is an experiment and a challenge I put to myself: How can I break out of my prose mindset and step more lightly? How can I engage serendipity and lyricism with my artistic leanings toward disciplinary rigor and research?

The results have been illuminating. First, I’ve discovered this:

Poetry has a way of wrapping around my prose almost like a vine around a branch. As the prose lends sturdy topics to poems, it also begins to exhibit the poetic flourishes. Poetry creeps in.

Second: There is no end to inspiration when it comes to poetry. Everything becomes a topic for a poem. The ideas bubble over into a running list of upcoming poems, and I wake in the morning eager to plow through my work to get to the creative outlet waiting for me.

Creative writing has always been a comfort and a dear friend, but in these days of pandemic, I feel more grateful than ever for a place at the fountain.

And I feel fortunate that I don’t need to purchase typewriter ribbon.

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Because I love the world and because I am here.

It is springtime in 2020 and the world feels like it’s rolling in a current. The rapids are approaching us here in the United States, in Central Appalachia, in West Virginia. I can see the white foam. It is called a pandemic.

We are in the midst of a paradigm-shifting world event. And it moves so fast it is hard to process. Our social infrastructure was not built for this. The supply chain cannot keep up. The public is uninformed and confused. Some people are in denial. Government officials have a conflict of interest between keeping the world from falling apart and maintaining the fiction that their leadership has kept us safe.

The speed of events, paradoxically, becomes a drag on our processing of them. We blink in disbelief. We are dazed by lockdowns, shelter-in-place orders, the closures of businesses all over our towns.

I step outside into the spring air and listen to birdsong echo down our silent street. The trees are blossoming, the breeze is warm, and tiny flowers burst out everywhere in the high grass. The world is beautiful in spite of everything.

We must go on. I feel an intense urge to create, write, produce. Will we become sick? Will we survive? The possibilities tick closer to certainties every day the coronavirus spreads unchecked. We have no vaccine, no antidote, no supplies. The hospitals will become overwhelmed.

Yet I must continue to write. To write not only about life as it is now, but as it was before and must be again. All the human problems and struggles large and small, internal and external. I must keep making art about the world and its inhabitants, because I love them and because I am here.

So today I begin this blog and build this website. I am taking a step forward in my writing life. I intend to publish my fiction, poetry, and essays, and contribute however modestly to our magnificent artistic culture. I hope you will work with me, through whatever may come, to advance our human expression about this world.

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