In times of upheaval and uncertainty, I turn to poetry to keep me anchored in reality. While most novels I’ve picked up recently have felt largely oblivious to the pain the world is currently facing, poems are succinct and eternal. Where a majority of novels take place in an explicitly pre-COVID-19 world, poems are less specific about their time and place. An emotion once felt will always be felt; a season once seen will always come again. The following pieces of poetry have helped me feel whole:
“That time / I thought I could not / go any closer to grief / without dying / I went closer, / and I did not die” writes Oliver. “Heavy” is about sorrow and the ways we can handle it. “‘It’s not the weight you carry, but how you carry it – ,” writes Oliver. “Books, bricks, grief – / it’s all in the way / you embrace it, balance it, carry it.’”
The world Limon writes from is not our current world, but the events she describes feel familiar. “Yesterday, so many dead in Norway,” Limon writes. “Today / a big-voiced singer found dead in her London flat. / And this country’s gone standstill and criminal.” The speaker is lonely, and longs for the basics of human interaction, like many of us in isolation do right now. “I want to give you something, or I want to take / something from you,” she writes. “But I want to feel the exchange, / the warm hand on the shoulder.”
“The Thing Is” calls the reader to love life in all of its awfulness; to learn to not only tolerate, but embrace the horrors it brings. In this age, all of us could do with some of Bass’s urges “to love life, to love it even / when you have no stomach for it / and everything you’ve held dear / crumbles like burnt paper in your hands.”
Smith’s prose is simple, truthful and gorgeous. “Life is short, though I keep this from my children,” Smith writes. “Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine / in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways.” She is an optimistic nihilist, and with morality staring us right in the face, her words are a comfort.
In “The Orange,” our narrator enjoys the simple things in life that I have always taken for granted. Whether she’s on the high of new love or a simple appreciation for the world, her joy is contagious: “And that orange, it made me so happy, / As ordinary things often do / Just lately. The shopping. A walk in the park. / This peace and contentment. It’s new.”
“Life is mostly froth and bubble,
Two things stand like stone.
Kindness in another’s trouble,
Courage in your own.”
“In this short Life that only lasts an hour /
How much — how little — is within our power.”