Aimless: Writing Poetry in a Pandemic

When April 1st came along, and I remembered GloPoWriMo, my first thought was, Oh, of course I can’t participate this year. I was in shock from the sudden school closures and the transition to work-from-home, and I was exhausted from two weeks of overwork. Then I realized: this is what poetry is for. If I cannot write during times of extreme challenge, then I’m not writing when I need it most.

So I took up the project, not as one more challenge or goal, but as a lifeline. After all, during the first April I participated, in 2018, I was also moving through a hard time, and writing poetry saved me then. It saved me this year, too.

Writing poetry helped me pause, process, and prioritize. Each night, I’d look up the next day’s prompt, think on it as I drifted to sleep, reflect on it when I woke, then write it during the day. Sometimes, I’d jot down lines on a scrap of paper while fixing breakfast. Other days, I’d bring a pad and pen with me on my garden time. Sometimes, I’d just let the ideas swirl, then carve aside a few moments during or after the workday.

I don’t feel the poems I wrote this year are good (with a few possible exceptions), but they were all important to me. They were therapy.

Here’s what I learned:

  1. What matters to me most is my home, our garden, our family. All choices are made to protect, enhance, nourish, and secure this. As a result of this realization, I feel clear about the future: If my work requires me to return on-site before I feel it is safe to, I will simply use up my ample leave time and then retire.
  2. My work–and the efforts of all the thousands of people I work with–matter. We contribute to health and well-being of the community, and our leaders have a big impact in providing local leadership during this challenging time. For this reason, even though I’d enjoy retiring immediately, I won’t. I’ll keep working remotely from home as long as I’m able, because the contribution I make is significant and it would be hard to replace me while we’re all working off-site. If I am faced with the situation where I feel I need to retire (see #1), then I’ll attempt to do so in a way that allows my supervisor and team to have a smooth transition.
  3. It’s possible to sort through misinformation, wade through chaos, and find actual, useful, helpful studies, predictions, and accounts. Spending time thinking about information and interpretation is time well-spent.

There may be more things I realized through writing poetry during this challenging month but these three points of processing and prioritization and the ones that stand out to me and help me feel secure in my approach and, even, towards the future of the next 18-24 months.

I realize, too, how incredibly lucky and privileged I am. I have two jobs–both of which can be done remotely. I work for supportive institutions, with acceptably supportive supervisors. I have Wi-Fi, a beautiful and peaceful and loving home environment, a restorative garden, and plenty of food. I am so grateful for the shoppers and delivery people who allow us to stay home and stay safe. I am in debt to their service.

My privilege doesn’t mean it’s always easy–it’s hard. I am often overworked. I’m only now developing a structure, and structure is something I require in order to cope. But my privilege means that I’m making it and I’m able to support our home and both of us. It is so much more than so many have, and I hope I never abuse or discount this privilege.

Poetry provides, for me, emotional and cognitive clarity–it’s a way to sort things out. The structure of a poem helps, as does the daily practice of writing it.

My writing will be moving on to Thruhiker and Spectrum this month–and I really hope that during the summer I’m able to return to some of my other SimLit that I want to finish! I always relish writing prose after a month of poetry!