MCPLs Autumn Konopka and Liz Chang on writing poetry during the pandemic
As poets continue to wrestle with, sift through, and struggle against a global pandemic that has upended ordinary life, the ability to make sense of it all may prove elusive.
Deadlocked or stuck.
“At first, the idea of writing anything felt impossible. What could any of us possibly have to say that would even matter anymore? But I’ve since had moments of great inspiration,” said Autumn Konopka, the 2016 Montgomery County Poet Laureate.
Many who may have experienced an initial creative surge now find that said burst has slowed to a crawl or stopped altogether. Others, who may have originally been blocked may now find their way to writing again.
As Covid-19 drags on, its specter overshadows the remaining months in 2020. That can be hard to ignore.
Konopka says she has struggled during the past four months. From dealing with a spotted lanternfly infestation in her Glenside yard to balancing her roles as president of a small non-profit and mother of two school-age children, as well as adding a new puppy to her household, the quarantine has been “stressful in a number of ways.”
She describes feeling like “a racecar stuck in the mud: engine revving, tires spinning, but not moving at all” because the combination of busy schedules, domestic tasks, and child caring roles don’t provide much time or energy for creative pursuits.
In the small moments when her schedule is open—even just a sliver—she is now excited about new ideas brewing and where those may lead.
Liz Chang, 2012 MCPL, now lives in Malvern, and is a professor at Delaware County Community College. She’s dealt with radical changes, too. An abrupt shift to online classes has required her to quickly adapt to teaching her students in a new format. In addition, she has had to learn to navigate her own home through lockdown with her husband and two small daughters, both of whom have their own schooling needs, too.
Chang admits the Covid-19 shutdown and subsequent phased restrictions have been intellectually and emotionally challenging.
“I think writers in general have an obligation to closely observe the human condition, and be the conscience of a society,” she explains.
Chang says her studies in her postgraduate Creative Nonfiction class have been inspiring when access to new poetry has proven elusive.
“It’s important to have new artwork and writing coming out. One of the things I’ve experienced is that prose-type phrasing is coming to me more readily,” Chang explains.
While creative droughts come and go, Chang says when the muse returns “it always comes roaring back.”
Below are some suggestions and tips to get the creative juices flowing. And, if all else fails, remember: wherever you are in the poet’s journey is okay!
You are not alone.
- Connect by reaching out to longtime friends and fellow poets to exchange shared work—without judging your results. Simple actions can jumpstart the process—and they’re fun, too.
- Consider connecting with virtual programs, like the upcoming Caesura Poetry Festival (http://www.montcopoet.org/caesura/). While in-person events may be restricted, organizers are getting creative in finding ways to maintain their organizations’ outreach. Find a list of online writers’ conferences you can attend during the pandemic from your laptop at soyouowanttowrite.org
- Read. A lot. As Autumn Konopka lays it out for us, “From Jane Austen and Charles Dickens to nonfiction on teaching, writing, and dog training, the more I read, the more possibilities I see for creating my own work.”
- Keep writing. Anything is better than nothing, even if the writing serves no other purpose than priming the pump, organizing thoughts, or finding fragments on which to build something more. From journals to essays, nonfiction to short stories, any writing may serve as seed to feed or nourish poems waiting in the wings for the right time to emerge.
“I think it’s more of a percolating time,” Liz Chang says. “Once you have a poet’s way of looking at the world, I think it comes out.”