A Halifax poet wrote 48 poems in less than two weeks of the pandemic
Anna Quon raised $2,000 in her Poetry For Groceries initiative
Right now, we're going through a period of uncertainty and change. We asked a few East Coast creators to reflect on their own transformations, in the past or present.
Near the beginning of the pandemic, when one of my favourite not-for-profit organizations closed its doors but got very busy behind the scenes organizing how to help the people it serves, I held an online fundraiser — Poetry for Groceries— writing a poem for every donation to the Canadian Mental Health Association Halifax-Dartmouth Branch. I raised over $2,000 and wrote 48 poems/painted a picture in less than two weeks. Here's a day in my life during that time.
4 a.m.: Awake in darkness. There's something heavy here. Pandemic, poetry and my impoverished sleep. Why poetry? Because it's what I do now that days don't work. They're long and languorous, full of nothing. I have to fill the box of them, or my anxiety begins to rise — small red welts of it like a rash on my insides — and the arms of my imagination start to flail. I fill them with the bricks of poems — heavy, dark, opaque at first like my windows before sunrise.
6 a.m.: The ragged rectangle of a poem emerges on my laptop screen, to a donor I do not know, who said, write what you want. The freedom is sometimes heavy, but my default theme is always the pandemic and how it pulls at my world. My daily walks without my cane are a fruit of these times, and my poems feel like them — slow start, past familiar landscapes, gaining rhythm til pain points me home again. Somehow I am lighter at the end.
7 a.m.: Walk. My body starts to ache. The pigeons and starlings are only nervous about my lunging gait, not about the virus. An oblivious someone comes toward me down the sidewalk. I veer right, onto the muddy grass. The birds scatter. I am their pandemic for the moment, but I feel like one of them.
8:30 a.m.: Another poem, this one about birds. A poem called "Perimeter" about the long rectangles I walk, around my own neighbourhood. My circumscribed life. But we all live in these rectangles, now.
10:30 a.m.: A brownie and a coffee. Food helps. Look at the poems, in their chunks. Some are brownies, some, bars of acrid soap. Wash my hands of them.
Noon: Rideau Cottage. Where are you, Prime Minister? I imagine I hear you coughing behind your front door. What if you never come out?
1:30 p.m.: Online support group. The little squares of people on Zoom, like the intro to the Brady Bunch— familiar faces, voices, dynamics comforting in their predictability. Another neighbourhood.
2:30 p.m.: Added eyes to the background of my painting "Corona". All eyes on you, gold lipped queen with virus-tufted crown. My eyes on the poems again. Tweak and polish til the bricks gleam.
3p.m.: Nap with the radio on. Dream of coughing as I walk, somewhere I've never been. Premier McNeil and Dr. Strang admonish me to stay home.
4 p.m.: Early supper. Everything is earlier these days. I look at the poems for the last time before I let them fly free, like homing pigeons, into the email ether. Phone my tiny aunt in Toronto, my Dad, my friends. I worry, they worry. We're OK.
The sky is still full of light at 7. I draw a rectangle around myself, and sleep.
If all the world's accordions
played in unison
the same song,
squeezing the mournful air
through corrugated lungs
until they sang,
with all their brothers,
that wistful tune
an old man on the corner
played a century ago for
pennies in a copper cup—
could we turn back the world
like a pocket watch,
or the fluttering pages of a calendar?
Could we erase the miseries
and errors of a hundred hubrid years?
but everything we do together
moves us forward
into the crisp unknowing
of the future
where a single violin
calls us to the frontier
of wild possibilities,
of a music
whose gleaming architecture
no human ear
has ever heard.
ABOUT ANNA QUON
Anna Quon is a middle-aged, mix-raced Mad woman who lives in Halifax. She likes to make things — novels, poems, paintings, short animated films, books-- and spends way too much time on Facebook, where she recreates and connects with friends. Her first two novels Migration Songs (2009) and Low (2013) were released by Invisible Publishing. She is currently working on a third novel, as well as her first poetry chapbook to be published professionally, though she has self-published a number of short collections as zines.
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