This mother-daughter duo has stayed connected through poetry during the pandemic
They live on opposite sides of the country, and wanted to connect through something other than phone or text
March of 2020 won't soon be forgotten — the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic marked a new way of life for people around the world as they dealt with loss, loneliness and processing a virus that was global in scale.
Melinda Dewsbury, a literature professor at Trinity Western University in Langley, B.C., describes that time as "discombobulating." When she feels that way, she said, she often turns to poetry to process her surroundings.
But she was also missing her family, in particular, her mother, and wanted to include her in her poetic practice.
"Deep down, the person that I'm drawn to the most when I'm looking for comfort is my mom," she told On the Coast guest host Margaret Gallagher.
Her mother, Diana Coldwell, lives in Owen Sound, Ont. When Dewsbury suggested they exchange poetry, she was thrilled.
"I thought this is a really great way to leave a record of this unprecedented time in our history, so I was really anticipating sharing our poems and getting feedback, and I just thought that was a great way to connect," she said.
Since their exchange began, they've written 115 poems between the two of them.
Read some of their work here:
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"We definitely saw a kind of evolution of our poetry, of course, of the actual literary quality of the poetry, but also of the subject matter," Dewsbury said.
"We kind of started out at the beginning of the pandemic, perhaps feeling a bit more dystopian in our poetry as we were trying to deal with this feeling of disconnection. But as things moved on, we wrote all kinds of things."
Narrative poetry, silly poems and poems with deeply spiritual themes are all part of the collection.
Although the pair still communicate by phone and through text message, they said their poetry was a way to "communicate the soul."
"You have to get back into why you're thinking the way you are, why you're feeling the way you are and working that out," Coldwell said.
"It's sort of an existential experience going through the pandemic. Poetry just helps you put it into words, express it and also just deal with it in a healthy way.
Dewsbury encourages others to use poetry to express themselves.
"It's not something to be afraid of," she said, noting people often become uncomfortable with the medium because they worry about following rules around rhyme or technique.
"Abandon those, at least at the beginning, and just enjoy playing."
She often turns to the senses for inspiration. For example, taking in her surroundings and thinking about something as simple as the colours in an abstract way, how they might sound or smell.
"I kind of try to train myself to see things that I normally overlook. I mean, almost anything can actually become a poem," Dewsbury said.
To hear the interview on CBC's On the Coast, click here:
With files from On the Coast