"Smog blights our vista to the south,
brings us twilight early.
Welcome to our man-made weather and myopia,
our faith in new construction, the recycled air
of this sarcophagus. This is the Biosphere."
These are the opening lines to one of the works produced in response to COVID-19 by Taos poet and teacher Lise Goett.
Recently she led a 30-day virtual poetry marathon which included five other poets from Canada and the United States. Goett said, "We had no intention of writing about the COVID-19 pandemic but as time went on when we discovered what we were in the midst of, the poems began to come, some of us writing more directly about its impact than others."
The marathon was part of The Society of the Muse of the Southwest (SOMOS) celebration of National Poetry Month (April 2020), curated by Ariana Kramer. This marathon encompassed and reflected the beginnings of the coronavirus pandemic. In the spirit of the day, these persons offer their poetry written in and of these times. The poets are Branwyn Holroyd, Richard C. Owens, Mickie Kennedy, Tina Carlson, Sophie Cohen and Goett.
Goett said these poets, the people who embraced the marathon challenge, are an exciting group of talent, occupationally and experientially diverse, each providing a unique perspective. I reviewed a handpicked selection of poems from the marathon. Here are a few lines from each, and a brief description of where the poet was writing from. There are plans to publish the poems in their entirety. For now they can be found on the SOMOS website: somostaos.org.
Holroyd lives in Vancouver and was the first of the group to self-quarantine. Her poems of day 15 and day 27 are snapshots of these moments in time and exemplify how intense the pandemic has been in densely populated cities like Vancouver.
"Butch called from Tucson to say, we might never speak again,
he says, there are no more masks,
At a San Francisco hospital, doctors are deciding who lives.
I am trying to prepare for uncertain future.
The stores full of people, the shelves almost empty.
I have dental floss, toothpaste, olive oil, toilet paper, everything I need
Owens teaches biotech law at the University of Toronto and writes about death in a richly nuanced way using the muse as a figure for social isolation.
"I'm in confinement.
The room silts up with time.
It's me and my muse in here,
and she's begun to stink a bit.
I fear she might be dead.
I cast a wary eye across the room;
she turns a cold shoulder."
Kennedy lives in Baltimore, Maryland, with his family and two feuding cats. Goett said he "writes with a dry, macabre wit. A 2 percent mortality rate is a large percentage if it pertains to your family, he would say."
"At the dinner party of my life,
the only invited guests are food:
a pickled plum of a spring salad with walnuts
and a homemade dressing of honey and hints
of chipotle, a spritz of lemon in a glass
of water, a rack of lamb cooling
next to a small bowl of mint jelly."
Carlson is a psychiatric nurse practitioner who works out of Santa Fe. Goett said "she was a first responder, and the first of us to write about the pandemic directly with her poem "Day After America," which fragments syntax in order to represent the sharp discontinuities of poetry."
"Ruin. I sit groaning at 5 am. I am a dress of my own skin. Mother enters my dream through automatic doors, waves, wave goodbye to birds in my head. Under the mask, I am still piano, fingering bone keys."
Cohen is a junior at MIT. She had to evacuate in the middle of March. Goett said, "Each of us experienced that evacuation through her poetry. Her father is an internist on the front lines in Lee, Massachusetts."
"I opened the window in my room
to let in the breeze and it reminded me
of my bedroom at home.
I didn't close it before I left.
It should be left open like that, at the end."
Goett's second book, "Leprosarium" (Tupelo Press, 2018), was a selection in the July 2015 Open Reading Period of Tupelo Press and the 2012 winner of the Robert H. Winner Memorial Award in Poetry from the Poetry Society of America for best manuscript-in-progress. Most recently, her poem "The Bookman" was selected as the first-place winner of the Palette Poetry Spotlight Award. Her poetry appears in numerous journals, including The Paris Review. She teaches generative workshops, mentors, and edits poetry manuscripts for publication online and out of her home in Taos. Reach her at Lisegoett@aol.com.