There are only a few days left of National Poetry Month 2020. Each week throughout the celebration I have run poems that somehow related to the unusual times we are living through, caused by the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. Throughout this surreal time I have found solace in poems and hope you have too.
During the last month something interesting has happened that makes me happy: People have turned to poetry to find meaning during this restless period of a precarious nature. The Academy of American Poets says twice as many people as usual have been reading the Academy’s Poem-a-Day e-mails and thousands more have visited the Academy’s website (poets.org). In addition, 80,000 more individuals than last year found ways to use the Academy’s educational tools for teaching poetry to kids. Kids and poetry—they go together like milk and Oreos!
I know some readers are anxious for April to be over so we can get back to more normal columns (if “normal” is an appropriate word for my ramblings). But there are a whole bunch of folks who love poetry as I do. As I’ve said in past years, poems are friends, especially when you commit them to memory. (Just ask my affiliate Joe. He has just finished memorizing his 51st poem!) Then, when you know them by heart, they are with you always—when stuck going nowhere during a “shelter at home” mandate, when standing in an interminable line at the grocery store, when sitting with a loved one sleeping in a hospital bed, or when your plane has been grounded and you aren’t allowed to get off. No matter where, no matter when, reading or reciting a poem will give you comfort, knowing you’re with “someone” who feels exactly the same way you do. Together you and your poem will feel like you just took a deep, calming breath simultaneously.
The Academy of American Poets says, “More and more people are turning to poetry at this moment, because amid fear and uncertainty, poetry can help bring needed strength. At a time of anxiety and alarm, poetry can help bring tranquility. Poetry has the power to bring us together…Hundreds of thousands of us reading a poem together each morning can be a salve in a time of social isolation.”
Here’s the perfect opportunity to experience the repose of poetry: Pick out a short poem and share it with others on Poem in Your (digital) Pocket Day next Thursday, April 30. Obviously, while worldwide quarantine is taking place, sharing a poem in person will be a tad difficult—except with those you are divvying up toilet paper with at home—but sharing online, or even via snail mail if you don’t delay, is a viable alternative. Post your pocket poem on our favorite social media sites using the hashtag #pocketpoem. (I am unfamiliar with the hashtag, except when I hashed out a tag from the back of a shirt that was irritating my neck). Have children make homemade pockets to tuck their poems into, or write a very short poem with chalk in front of your house or an essential business. If there’s one thing this coronavirus is doing, it’s forcing us to think of creative workarounds. Go crazy! Write a poem backward on your forehead so others on your Zoom meeting can read it.
Here is the poem I will carry in my pocket on Poem in Your Pocket Day this year. It is called In April, by Rainer Maria Rilke (1875 – 1926) (you read another poem by Rilke in a Thunker column earlier this month). It came to me via my friend Carol B. in Chicago. This is how April is supposed to be:
Again the woods are odorous, the lark
Lifts on upsoaring wings the heaven gray
That hung above the tree-tops, veiled and dark,
Where branches bare disclosed the empty day.
After long rainy afternoons an hour
Comes with its shafts of golden light and flings
Them at the windows in a radiant shower,
And rain drops beat the panes like timorous wings.
Then all is still. The stones are crooned to sleep
By the soft sound of rain that slowly dies;
And cradled in the branches, hidden deep
In each bright bud, a slumbering silence lies.
To end the month of poetry, we will find comfort in the time of coronavirus with a poem by Langston Hughes (1902 – 1967). The Dream Keeper reminds us to hold onto our dreams throughout this faltering time (“the too-rough fingers of the world”), for there will be a day when we can once again come and go freely, embrace lovingly and make those dreams come true.
Bring me all of your dreams,
Bring me all of your
That I may wrap them
In a blue cloud-cloth
Away from the too-rough fingers
Of the world.
You may let The Thunker know what you think at her e-mail address, email@example.com.
© 2020 Sarah Donohoe