Sheltering with Poems: Community & Connection During COVID |
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Sheltering with Poems: Community & Connection During COVID

Reviewed by Jason A. Smith

For those of us who have been taking shelter among words during the Covid-19 pandemic, a new collection of Wisconsin poetry created just for the occasion has arrived. Published by the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets and Middleton-based Bent Paddle Press, Sheltering with Poems: Community & Connection During COVID offers up 89 poems on life under shelter-at-home orders by 74 poets from throughout the state. The poems, written mostly during the early months of the pandemic, reflect our efforts as humans to come to grips with social distancing, isolation, and the constant threat of illness and death.

“In those days / we floated on the sea of life / in separate boats,” writes Eileen Mattmann of West Bend in her poem “In Those Days.” The poem concludes with our shared desire to hold another’s “warm, strong hands” even though doing so might mean we “inadvertently /pull them in and under.”

But it’s not just a bleak and fraught world depicted in these poems, there is also humor, love, and resilience. There is an ode to soap and a meditation on quarantine hair, as well as a couple of reflections on the scarcity of toilet paper. A handful of poems also provide glimpses of the cultural and racial disparities that have been laid bare by the virus.

In “This Month,” Milwaukee poet Ae Hee Lee wonders aloud how toilet paper could be in such short supply in a first-world country like America. To which her husband gently replies: “This is a third-world country / with a few who are very, very rich.”

“Part of the purpose [of the anthology] was to capture those early days,” says co-editor Kathleen Serley. “We wanted to contribute to the historical record and thought there should be some different kinds of voices documenting this time.”

Editors Bruce Dethlefsen, Kathleen Serley, and Angela Voras-Hills, along with managing editor Christina Kubasta and artist Wendy Vardaman—all WFOP members—came up with the idea for the anthology as a way of keeping members connected after the cancellation of their 2020 conference. All proceeds from sale of the book, which reflects the poetic diversity and creativity our state has to offer, support WFOP.

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From 2008 to 2021 Jason A. Smith was the associate director of the Wisconsin Academy and editor of its quarterly magazine of Wisconsin thought and culture, Wisconsin People & Ideas.

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