A lot of writers and artists make Northumberland County home! One important reason my husband and I chose to settle here after two decades abroad is the many poets and visual artists who practice their craft here.
What is poetry? According to Margaret Atwood, “Poetry is condensed emotion.” Poets often focus on epiphanies—flashes of understanding and suddenly heightened awareness—which inspire them to employ image, metaphor, playful and lyrical language to express their revelations about an inner landscape, or a natural one. In poetry “…kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame” (Gerard Manley Hopkins). Poetry has been compared to photography which also seeks to capture a moment. Poetry often follows an associative thought process to a “turn,” or point of connection which may bring understanding, or hover over uncertainty. Poetry can be celebration or elegy, or both at the same time, as in the case of an ode. Poetry can be occasional verse, or it can witness injustice. Poetry declares, I am here! During the pandemic the very act of writing poetry has been a form of resilience—the theme of the 2022 Northumberland Festival of the Arts (September 16 to October 2).
I am happy to be one of several volunteers supporting the Words on a Wire poetry event at the Northumberland Festival of the Arts (Saturday September 17, 2022, 2PM). The reading will feature Louise Bernice Halfe Sky Dancer, Canada’s Parliamentary Poet Laureate; Randall Adje, Ontario’s Poet Laureate and Jessica Outram, Cobourg’s Poet Laureate, along with a selection of local poets and the music of Marie-Lynn Hammond, who is a poet herself.
I invited Jessica Outram and other local poets to contribute a favourite line or two from a poem written during the pandemic and to answer the question, Why Poetry? Here are several responses below:
Jessica Outram, Cobourg Poet Laureate
Favourite line from a poem I wrote during the pandemic in its early days:
eye to eye she understands a story of transformation
the gifts of seeing, the knowing of living
To better understand my story and how it fits in the greater story of being human.
Gwynn Scheltema, Director, NFOTA
Favourite line/s: from the poem “Cliff Crying” written Spring 2021
hollow-swallowing shadows inch from the cliff face
frenzied seabirds caw a raucous requiem
I write poetry to capture the moments too small for prose and respond to the issues too big to ignore. Plus I love a good wallow in words.
Lines from “Gratitude” by Katie Hoogendam, written 2020:
Does it seem like everyone is dying?/It does./And then you realize what a holy miracle/your grandmother’s one hundredth birthday was.
Katie says, “I’m not sure this is my “favourite” line(s) from any of my pandemic poems, but it is, perhaps, the most forthright poetic assessment of the swirl of apocalyptic feelings that I and so many others were contending with at the dawn of the pandemic.
I write poetry because it is the format most conducive to drawing both writer and reader’s attention close, microscopically close. Every detail–every word, every sound, every space, every punctuation mark–is intentional. Every tiny thing matters. In a world full of noise and thunder, poems are a refuge, a place where reader and poet both are allowed to indulge in the decadence of detail. It is a rare and fertile space indeed.
Favourite lines from a pandemic poem:
Moon to Mila’s sun, soft autumn mist
to her sweet summer dew, Elsie brings gifts from beyond,
brings the beyond itself,
For my granddaughters!
Wow — it’s hard to find one “favourite” line that makes any sense out of context! So here’s a sentence from a poem called “Remembering,” and it’s addressed to us humans:
[The earth] remembers you are the tumult of hooves
tattooing thunder on the shining plains…
I’m primarily a songwriter, but with both lyric writing and poetry, I love the alchemy of words, how phrases and images can arise unbidden and combine to surprise, move, delight and transform. During the pandemic I’ve written more poetry than songs, because I’ve spent a lot of time in nature, and my complicated thoughts on humans’ often dire connection to the natural world tend not to fit a song’s concise pattern.
Antony Di Nardo
My favorite lines from a Pandemic Poem:
I yearn for the day Amazon will return all the money I’ve given them
(no amount of blushing will change what they owe me)
From my poem, “Thoughts Robust While Sitting Out the Pandemic of ‘21”
Because it’s only poetry that gives me lines like these. I’ve tried with a paint brush, I’ve played with clay, I once had a guitar, but the lines never came out right. It’s only poetry that does it for me. Words have a knack for being elastic. They also love to tell the truth, or they’ll have you lying through your teeth. If you find the right ones to place in the right order, words can put into the world something that was never there before. They’re that creative! Like the first line from my poem: I yearn for the day Amazon will return all the money I’ve given them. That’s such a loaded line. It tells a story, it creates an image, it suggests a voice, and it’s completely surreal, even absurd, because it describes something that will never happen in reality. And that’s why I write poetry, because it can filter reality through so many lenses and with just a few lines.
Favourite lines written during the pandemic from my poem “The Nose-ring Girl”:
In front of Tim Hortons / most days with her supermarket / shopping cart. Two pyrite rings /
in each nostril. /Her age— / Seventeen? Nineteen? /She stretches out her skinny hand, / palm cupped, for coins. / Her sleeve rides up, a bracelet of scars /binding her wrist.
My personal poetics often follow Margaret Atwood’s idea of poetry as “condensed emotion.” During my last ten years teaching tertiary level language-through-literature in Hong Kong I taught poetry of dissent to help my students express themselves during the tumultuous days of the protests. As a long time resident of Hong Kong I wrote a lot of poetry of witness during the protests. Nowadays I often write about what I notice as a recently returned Canadian. Just before the pandemic began we moved to Toronto to the downtown condo we owned there. During the first winter of the pandemic homeless people in the area were struggling to survive even more than usual. I was moved to write about what was happening to them just outside our front door.
Northumberland Festival of the Arts will take place across Northumberland County from September 16 – October 2, 2022.
Northumberland Festival of the Arts is a volunteer-run not-for-profit arts organization.
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