BY SOUTHGREY.CA STAFF — Derived from the Greek "poieo," meaning "I create," poetry has long been a language prized for its aesthetic qualities and ability to convey emotions in a way that routine prose cannot. In fact, historians believe that poetry is one of the earliest forms of communication, and one that may even predate literacy. As such, poetry was once a means of recording history and telling stories. So it's not surprising that creative writers everywhere have used poetry to memorialize their experiences during the COVID-19 phenomenon.
Local writers have added their voices to the growing pool of pandemic prose, conveying their own personal stories using this expressive artform. They come from Meaford, Markdale, Massie, Wiarton, and Kemble and previously met monthly at the Harmony Centre in Owen Sound, exchanging ideas and sharing their works-in-progress. "We haven't been profoundly affected by (lockdown measures) having to meet on Zoom, but we were at our happiest and most invigorated when we used to take our chairs, and meet under the trees in Harrison Park," said Geoff Bowes, one of the newer members of the group.
While lockdown restrictions may have forced Zoom meetings into their routine, the creative flame still burns for them. Sheila Balls penned these poems — written one year apart in April, 2020 and April, 2021 — as part of series she has called Parades.
Surprised, too often lately, by tears.
This latest ambush: Images.
Convoy of police cars
in the town where I was born,
Processing past the hospital
lights flashing, sirens calling their support
to tired besieged workers.
Inside the cars, people of action,
reduced to the only step forward they can think to take
in the face of these strange and startling times.
They crawl in purposeful parade,
tears on both sides of the car windows.
No parades passing my door
Just silent streets,
And my husband’s voice
In my head, singing
as he always did this time of year,
“He had that look you very rarely find
The haunting, hunted kind.”
We all have that look right now.
The haunting, hunted kind.
And maybe I am not the only one
Surprised by tears.
~ Sheila Balls
The parades have stopped
Not just rerouted
never even begun.
Cut off in the staging area,
the initial delight of encouraging others
lost now in the weariness of sustaining self
through four endless isolated seasons of separation.
Headed into a lonely spring
I took the white ribbon off the tree.
Any frontline workers driving by
are too tired to see it anyway,
we are all the frontline now.
“When this is over”
(lately they’re not saying it as often)
when this is over
lets give ourselves
the biggest parade ever.
~ Sheila Balls
Local artist Bonnie Gardiner took an ambitious approach to her COVID catharsis, painting a picture and accompanying poem — one per day for the month of February, 2021. "To help myself and my grandkids to survive the second lockdown, I had posted on Facebook that my red tutu, Piglet and Kermit were going on an adventure each day," said Bonnie, recalling the germ of the idea. "My intention wasn't to post the photos daily on Facebook, however some of my friends wanted to see the adventures of the red tutu, a pig, and a frog."
Seeing Lady Gaga in a red tutu at the presidential inauguration in January was a gift from the universe, according to Bonnie, who says she functions better when she sets goals. "I decided I would take one of my photos, transform it into a 5" x 7" painting and write a poem about it every day," she explained. "It gave me a reason to get out of bed, and something to commit myself to, once I did."
Bound into a book, The 28-Day 3P (Pandemic + Painting + Poem) Pandemic Project copies are $15 each and can be ordered from her Facebook page.
The 28-Day 3P (Pandemic + Painting + Poem) Pandemic Project Day 2: Red Tutu in the Snow 7" x 5" acrylic by Bonnie Gardiner.
Bonnie first put her pandemic thoughts to paper with this poem:
Shelter knowing the earth
and those who are vulnerable
Find your tribe
Examine your wants
Nourish your needs
Lay down the sword of anger and
make peace with change.
Open your heart to opportunity
It’s okay to rest
however never give up
Put a smile on someone’s face
and allow someone to put a smile on yours
Remember the lessons
Never again underestimate
the value and healing powers
of a hug
Don’t forget the lessons
~ BJ Gardiner
(for Coco and Connor)
Once a week we meet on Zoom
in frames of twenty-five faces
to a page.
Side arrow navigates to four more,
participant numbers escalating like
call-ins on a telethon.
Faithful followers smile, wave, and
type: hello from BC, here from Austin,
Marie from Halifax.
Faces of children beside their mothers,
slide in and out of view.
Warm-ups begin with loosening,
deep breaths and rolling shoulders.
Quilt of muted faces, mouths moving,
follows scales and Coco’s voice,
clear and agile, leads us
by calling for response.
She layers her songs in recorded harmonies
that build and build until
heads thrown back, mouths wide open,
we are singing out unheard,
safe to try new levels of abandon,
to get up and dance in the spaces
between tables and chairs,
morph into scatting
to Connor’s riffs on double bass.
Her message is one of freedom
for the sake of being alive,
to use the music of our voices
without fear of breaking glass.
Expand into our chosen parts,
and take flight.
~ Danuta Valleau
(not saying a word: to keep mum)
You walk by my side,
separate thoughts flying as I
regard the sky, filleted by leafless branches and
compare it to the palm of my hand.
Trills of blackbirds, guttural calls of sandhill cranes,
hollers of excited geese announce a riotous beginning,
foreign to this year of endings,
the quieting of our chatter.
We are not the only ones.
Two more approach and we perform
a couples pas de deux to opposite sides,
the road between us.
Present ourselves to each other
as evidence of another day
and free of penalty.
~ Danuta Valleau
At the brink
Approached in the street
I back up, raise a palm
but not in greeting.
‘Spare change?’ is all she says and turns
empty-handed to walk away.
Empty space the new barrier,
layers of multi-factored
separation we cannot help
The threat of nearness,
visceral among strangers.
It is okay now to turn away,
to dance alone.
From six feet,
I cannot hear you.
Remember in the beginning,
when it was said
we were all in this together?
~ Danuta Valleau
You will agree that these works are well-written verses by local authors who know a thing or two about creative expression, but anyone who can take pen to paper — or cursor to screen — can create poetry. As one of the more lasting forms of self-expression, and one that figures to continue withstanding the test of time, maybe poetry could provide others with solace too. It's worth a try!
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