History, History Column

Poetry and the Pandemic


Written by Parker A. Poodle ™

Copyright ©2021 Sarah Becker

Poetry and the Pandemic

by Parker A. Poodle ™

In this parent fatigued pandemic I, Parker A. Poodle, a reading education assistance dog, have been asked to help you “Spin your imagination a little faster.”  To assure children “The shallowest breath will generate/ a haiku, limerick or well-pruned lyric.”  Hospice nurses now write lyrics to help them cope with the Covid crisis; write poetry to process their ICU experiences.  As of January 14 the total number of U.S. Covid-19 cases was 23,214,472.  The number continues to climb.

Covid-19 has taken a measurable toll.  We have fought its spread for months and all are tired.  Of social distancing, virtual distancing; stay at home orders and remote learning.  School and library facilities are mostly closed and school test scores have declined.  Home confinement is hard, I know!

“I stare at the page, waiting for my wattage,/ wondering if it’s time to invest in/subsidized solar scripting,” British poet and pal Elisabeth Rowe penned.

“Time rolls over/ like a puppy in the sunshine/ things I am paying attention to/ become weightless,” Rowe wrote In the Garden.  Not so now.  Most humans—it seems—feel weighed down, pandemic plagued, and overloaded.

How can I, a canine assist?  I encourage you to express your feelings in writing; to use poetry to explain the day’s exploits.  To maybe cure what ails.  A narrative poem is one that tells a tale, a story.  A historical story perhaps, or—in the case of the pandemic—home life.

Elise Paschen, editor of Poetry Speaks to Children, describes poetry as a “journey of discovery…filled with range—historically, poetically, and visually.  Poetry is like a diving board, a place from which to plunge into [life’s] depths.”

Poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) wrote To Flush, My Dog in the 1840s.  Her cocker spaniel was a Loving friend.  “But of thee it will be said,/ This dog watched beside a bed/ Day and night unweary—.”

Walt Whitman described Fireside poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) “as a universal poet, of women and young people.”  The Civil War (1861-1865) loomed and Longfellow called “for courage.”  He published the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere in 1861.

“Listen my children, and you shall hear/ Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,/ On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five:/ Hardly a man in now alive/ Who now remembers that famous day and year./  He said to a friend, “If the British march/ By land or sea from the tower to-night,/ Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry-arch/ Of the Old North-Church-tower, as a signal light,/ One if by land, and two if by sea;/ And I on the opposite shore will be,/ Ready to ride and spread the alarm/ Through every Middlesex village and farm,/ For the country-folk to be up and to arm…

You know the rest./ In the books you have read,/ How the British Regulars fired and fled—,/ How the farmers gave them ball for ball,/ From behind each fence and farmyard-wall,/ Chasing the red-coats down the lane,/ Then crossing the fields to emerge again/…

So through the night rode Paul Revere;/ And so through the night went his cry of alarm/ To every Middlesex village and farm,—/ A cry of defiance and not of fear,/ A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,/ And a word that shall echo forevermore!/…”

Republican President Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809-April 15, 1865) wrote his first poem in his youth.  “Abraham Lincoln/his hand and his pen/he will be good but/god knows When.”   Lincoln emancipated most of America’s slaves on January 1, 1863.

Poet and Civil War hospital volunteer Walt Whitman (1819-1892) wrote Chants Democratic 6 closer to his death.  Described as America’s “most influential poet,” Whitman was bent on democracy.

“You just maturing youth!  You male or female!/ Remember the organic compact of These States,/ Remember the pledge of the Old Thirteen  thenceforward to the rights, life, liberty, equality of man,/ Remember what was promulgated by the founders, ratified by the States, signed in black and white by the Commissioners, and read by Washington at the head of the army,/ Remember the purposes of the founders,–Remember Washington;/….

Remember, government is to subserve individuals,/ Not any, not the President, is to have one jot more than you or me,/ Not any habitan of America is to have one jot less than you or me./

Anticipate when the thirty or fifty millions, are to become the hundred, or two hundred millions, of equal freemen and freewomen, amicably joined./

Recall ages—One age is but a part—ages are but a part;/ Recall the angers, bickerings, delusions, superstitions, of the idea of caste,/ Recall the bloody cruelties and crimes./ Anticipate the best women;
I say an unnumbered new race of hardy and well-defined women are to spread through all These States,/ I say a girl fit for These States must be free, capable, dauntless, just the same as a boy./

Anticipate your own life—retract with merciless power,/ Shirk nothing—retract in time—Do you see those errors, diseases, weaknesses, lies, thefts?/ Do you see that lost character?”…

Character is often defined as the “collective qualities or characteristics, especially mental and moral that distinguish a person or thing.”  Who cannot “see that lost character” especially after the January 6 Trump-inspired attack on the U.S. Capitol?  The siege cost five people their lives including Capitol police officer Brian Sicknick.  The preceding January 5 rally (NPS permit #21-0274) included two former Trump employees: pardoned felons and toadies George Papadoupolis (campaign staff) and Roger Stone (Advisor).  Still Trump-45’s second impeachment continues.

“Patriotism means to stand by country,” President Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) wrote.  “To announce that there must be no criticism of the President or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.  Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or anyone else.  But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about anyone else.”

Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes (1902-1967) wrote The Negro Speaks of Rivers at age 18.  “I’ve known rivers:/ I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and/ older than the flow of human blood in human veins./ My soul has grown deep like the rivers./… I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln/ went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy/ bosom turn all golden in the sunset./ I’ve known rivers./ Ancient, dusky rivers./ My soul has grown deep like the rivers.”

The Oxford American Dictionary defines soul as the “moral, or emotional, or intellectual nature of a person or animal.”  Wrote Walt Whitman in My Canary Bird: “Did we count great, O Soul, to penetrate the themes of mighty books,/ Absorbing deep and full from thoughts, plays and speculations?/ But now from thee to me, caged bird, to feel thy joyous warble,/ Filling the air, the lonesome room, the longsome forenoon,/ Is it not just as great, O Soul?”

The pandemic has led to “an unprecedented surge in pet adoptions.”  Perhaps you would like to celebrate your pet pal or teacher; a special place or outdoor adventure with a poem?  If so, then let’s begin.

To write well, we first need an idea.  Good ideas take imagination.  And, as poets Elisabeth Rowe and Paul B. Janeczko suggest, a word turbine or word bank.   Tad Hills’ “earnest dog” Rocket recommends a word tree.  How do we grow our tree?

We start with a few key words.  In my case I focused on what I know well, myself.  I associated the first words that came to mind with the spelling of my name.  PARKER: Poodle Arthritis Read Kids Education Rhyme.  My narrative: I am an older dog who enjoys reading with children.  Who knows poems have rhythm even if every second line does not always rhyme.

“My name is Parker A. Poodle/I neither dawdle nor doodle/I like to write/Not paint or draw/So write a poem I will try.”

Next I asked my lady to brainstorm the word dog.  Her answer…DOG: Delightful Old Goat.  I stopped counting the years when I reached Sweet Sixteen.  Our mix of themes: animals, aging, agility and grace, canine cognition and knowledge.  Also: pandemic, isolation, school and home, together and alone.

If the method suggested above does not suit, try using an adjective—a word used to describe a person, place, or thing—as the subject.  Words like happy, blue, interesting, boring, masked or exposed.

Concluded children’s poet Nikki Giovanni in The Reason I Like Chocolate: “The reason I like chocolate/ is I can lick my fingers/ and nobody tells me I am not polite/ I especially like scary movies/ ‘cause I can  snuggle with my mommy/ or my big sister and they don’t laugh/ I like to cry sometimes ‘cause/ everybody says, “What’s the matter/ don’t cry”/ and I like books/ for all those reasons/ but mostly ‘cause they just make me/ happy/ and I really like/ to be happy.”

No one has impressed this old dog more in recent years than America’s inaugural Youth Poet Laureate.  Said Amanda Gorman of the pandemic:

“I thought I’d awaken to a world in mourning./ Heavy clouds crowding, a society storming./ But there’s something different on this golden morning./ Something magical in the sunlight, wide and warming./ I see a dad with a stroller taking a jog./ Across the street, a bright-eyed girl chases her dog./…

While we may feel small, separate, and all alone,/ Our people have never been more closely tethered./ The question isn’t if we will weather this unknown,/ But how we will weather this unknown together./ So on this meaningful morn, we mourn and mend./ Like light, we can’t be broken, even when we bend./ As one we will defeat both despair and disease.

We ignite not in the light, but in lack thereof,/ For it is in loss that we truly learn to love./ In this chaos, we will discover clarity,/ In suffering we must find solidarity./ Know that this distance will make our hearts grow fonder,/ From a wave of woes our world will emerge stronger.

We’ll observe how the burdens braved by humankind/ Are also the moments that make us humans kind;/ Let every dawn find us courageous, brought closer;/ Heeding the light before the fight is over./ When this ends, we’ll smile sweetly, finally seeing/ In testing times, we became the best of beings.”

To Amanda, teachers, and all I end with a four-paw salute.  To the generation of poets I watch from afar I ask.  Pick up your pencils and write, give poetry a try.  If I promise you’ll not only learn, but also feel better?

World Poetry Day is celebrated on March 21; National Poetry Day on October 1.

“In reply to a reader’s question:  President Theodore Roosevelt, the country’s 26th President, quote … ‘Patriotism means to stand by the country’ further states ‘It does not mean to stand by the President or any other public official to the degree in which he stands by the country.'”  
The paragraph as written is a combination of two relevant 1918 Roosevelt articles. The above quote can be found in full in Metropolitan magazine, Lincoln and Free Speech by Theodore Roosevelt, V. 47, No. 6, 1918 May.

About the Author: Sarah Becker started writing for The Economist while a graduate student in England. Similar publications followed. She joined the Crier in 1996 while serving on the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association Board. Her interest in antiquities began as a World Bank hire, with Indonesia’s need to generate hard currency. Balinese history, i.e. tourism provided the means. The New York Times describes Becker’s book, Off Your Duffs & Up the Assets, as “a blueprint for thousands of nonprofit managers.” A former museum director, SLAM’s saving grace Sarah received Alexandria’s Salute to Women Award in 2007.  Email: abitofhistory53@gmail.com

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