(Fort Atkinson Public Library) The Dwight Foster Public Library and the Friends of Lorine Niedecker are happy to announce a reading by Wisconsin poets to celebrate National Poetry Month. The poets featured at this reading are all included in the new anthology “Sheltering with Poems: community and connection during covid,” and the readings will take place on Thursday, April 15 at 7 p.m. on Facebook and live on Zoom. To register go to fortlibrary.org/covidpoetry.
In his foreword to the anthology, former Wisconsin Poet Laureate Max Garland “modestly” proposes “adding poets and artists to the list of essential workers.” While not as vital or heroic as nurses, doctors, teachers and “those among us doing what needs to be done day after day,” Garland says poetry can relate the “ongoing news of what happens in the hearts and minds of ordinary people facing extraordinary peril. News from the front lines of feeling.”
Although the pandemic goes on, in fact, many of the poems were written before the late 2020 surge, they come from the heart of the first reckoning of the otherness and disturbance of our “normal” daily lives, before we (almost) got used to the “new normal” among all the other new vocabulary. Witness these words from Appleton poet Cathryn Cofell’s “Hope is a Force of Nature:” One minute you’re sitting / on a porch enjoying the view / and then bam! Hope turns / yellow sun to bruise // blue sky inside out / porch swing to kindling / and you into your neighbor’s /arbor vitae, ass over teakettle
There are descriptions of the new way time feels, as in Madisonian Jody Murad Curley’s poem, “Pandemimonium:”
let the calendar drop its pages / let the phone lose its charge / let passwords pass away as / the clouds drift by above our heads // let us / stop
The poems in the anthology do deal with those new terms and situations: sheltering in place, social distancing, isolation. But it’s not just a bleak world depicted in poems. Madison poet Ron Czerwien poetically describes the proper distance for social distancing in “Where We Stand:” Equal to a man of average height / wearing a Lincoln-esque top hat / while lying on the ground.
There is an ode to soap, a poem that wonders if toilet paper will save us. There are poems that ponder our relationship to hair length and the trajectory of spit. Many poems note the days: “Day Fourteen,” “America in the Third Week,” or other numbers: “One Hundred Thousand and Climbing.” The poets in this anthology are nurses and lawyers, teachers and scientists, artists, students, booksellers and business owners. Their poems speak to all of us going through this pandemic together.
“If there is shelter in poetry, or art itself, it’s a movable shelter,” Garland writes, “an ancient antigen, shelter that preserves, but also reinvigorates; comforts, but also reawakens our latent capacity for healing.”
The anthology has poems by four former or current state poets laureate, two each former poets laureate from Madison and Door County, and one each from Eau Claire, Sheboygan and Madison.