Poetry in the time of COVID

By: Mark Squibb, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,  The Shoreline News
The COVID-19 pandemic has elicited strong emotional reactions across the globe, and a St. John’s author and her extended family are using poetry to bottle and preserve those emotions.
Though written in verse, Lillian Bouzane said the collection of poems is as much a historical documentation of the early days of the pandemic as it is a book of art.
“I imagine that a hundred years down the road, some graduate student is writing about the pandemic of 2019 and 2020 (or however long it lasts,) and comes across this book of poetry, or the manuscript of poetry, which I have every intention of putting in the archives, and what they get is a picture of the beginning of the pandemic, when very few people, including the doctors and scientists, knew what to do about it,” said Bouzane. “So, I see it more as a historical document written in verse.”
The poems, written by siblings, children, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and spouses, reflect a wide range of emotions, emotions that we’ve all felt at some point during the pandemic: anguish, fear, boredom, uncertainty, contentment, bravado, and joy. One poem paints a picture of planting gardens and snaring rabbits during isolation, while another highlights the heartache of grandparents who are not able to properly visit growing grandchildren.
The poems, written by everyday folk who would never style themselves as ‘poets’, portray how folks felt in all the moments, little and big, of unprecedented times.
Bouzane, herself the author of In The Times of Wolves, a suite of poems on the Mount Cashel crimes, and the novel In The Hands of the Living God, which was long listed for the International IMPACT Dublin Literary Award in 2000, said that creativity provides an emotional lift, especially during times such as these.
“The joy of writing the poems makes you feel good,” said Bouzne. “To write a poem, as one person said, makes you feel as if you’ve had a glass of wine… I heard on the radio that somebody has composed a song to Janice Fitzgerald, the Chief Medical Officer.”
Bouzane said she was ‘surprised by joy,’ a line borrowed from poet William Wordsworth that expresses the feeling of being caught off guard by a sudden burst of joy in a dark moment, when her family embraced her suggestion to write and publish the collection.
“I was so surprised by all of the members of the family who were writing poems,” said Bouzane. “I thought, ‘Am I going to get 30? Am I going to get 20? Am I going to get any at all?’ And I got 75.’”
The collection, the cover of which is a photo of The Rower statue at Quidi Vidi Lake adorning a facemask, is available as an eBook from Amazon at $3.94.