I was watching an episode of Torchwood last night in which death no longer existed. On learning this Gwen Cooper said “well, we can’t have that. What’ll the poets write about?” While broody death poems are a staple I think this year has taught us that there is so much poetry can do for us – it isn’t all death, just like pandemic living, there’s pain, emotion, family, joy and hope.
Poetry explores what it means to be human. We can look back into the past, and see writers having experienced unprecedented times themselves. The world feels terrifying right now. I have friends and family members who are seriously unwell (not to mention a terminal illness myself), but as you read the work of poets who’ve lived through crisis’ past, know that this will end. Things will feel warm, kindness never left, it’s just been overshadowed right now.
I am by no means trying to downplay the current state of things. I’m shielding and haven’t left the house in over three hundred and ten days. I’ve had a mental health crisis during this time, emergency surgery, and I’ve also had my heart broken. Poetry has been the only unwavering thing. It’s there whether you’ve had an argument with family members, it’s there whether you read it or not. Poetry has swelled into something lifesaving for myself and others, like an emergency raft on a sinking boat. Not just in its reading but in my writing. At this time last year could you imagine people saying those with chronic health conditions were disposable? So openly? Watching death tolls on the news and living in a seemingly endless state of emergency? Poetry is still here – recording your experiences and others. You matter. One day things will become more manageable.
After 9/11 a NY Fire chief said “Thank you for the food and blankets, but please; no more poetry.” I think that’s because poems about current events have this horrendous weight to them, nothing about them is resolved. If you’re reading something written a decade ago, you know that those things, those events written about, pass. And that’s the terrifying thing about today, right now. We don’t know. But where there is hopelessness there is poetry, and where there is poetry there’s hope. Poetry will be here long after us, and it was here long before us. It’s pieces of your soul written down, saved, savoured, cherished – images are exact in a way no other form can muster.
I don’t have a conclusion to this post – just that its okay to be keeping away from social media. It’s okay to be reading, it’s okay to be not. Poetry is here, and poets are here, the community is here. It’s okay to be scared. It’d be a bit strange if you weren’t. Just take comfort in knowing poetry’s not going anywhere. You are not alone. Take my (thoroughly sanitised, metaphorical) hand.