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a silhouette of a person with outstretched arms stands back-lit by a sunrise/sunset
March 26, 2021

Reflecting on COVID through Poetry and art

Headshot of Michael Stacey

By Dr. Michael Stacey

Writing poetry is a way for me to remove myself from the many issues in work and life that keep occupying my thoughts even when I am having a break or relaxing.

“The world of playing with words, thoughts and emotions pushes aside those nagging issues from work.”

With poetry my thoughts become focused and consumed as I develop the key messages of a poem, search for different words to limit repetition, integrate the themes and ideas and refine the overall structure of the poem. It is also a way to express feelings and emotions that are looking for an outlet. The world of playing with words, thoughts and emotions pushes aside those nagging issues from work.

“Breaking free” is a poem that I wrote to capture the joy of breaking free from an oppressive pandemic winter. This poem was written to complement an image of spring blossoms that I painted during the winter months using oil paint as the medium. The painting and the poem can be viewed side by side on my art Instagram site – michaelcstacey.artistandpoet

“Resilience in the time of COVID” is a poem in the form of a villanelle, which is a type of rhyming poem with six stanzas that repeats lines one and three of the first stanza and ends with those two lines. The relevance here is that I have used those lines to stress the importance of the roles of all health workers, whether frontline or not, and also the need for all workers to care of themselves.

“How to write a poem about a mask” is a free verse poem that I wrote for an anthology of poetry to celebrate the 20th anniversary of The Ontario Poetry Society. The poem focuses on the surgical mask as an unlikely symbol that can inspire a poet to capture in verse the power of the mask in these pandemic times.

a painting of white buds/blossoms growing on branches

Artwork by Michael Stacey. The first blossoms of spring bring a lightness to life that reflects the hopes of breaking free from a viral pandemic winter.

Breaking free

this winter has been the hardest to endure

its protracted pandemic chill

has created a freeze on motion

like the tree that stands dormant in my garden

anchored and immobile with no sign of activity

I am consumed by a stupor

I sense that in it I see me

within and beneath its scraggy coiffure

buds of potential are evident

constrained by days of little light

draped in a chill cover of snow

just as my craving to venture out

to travel, go to restaurants or bars is repressed

rooted by stay-at-home orders

impatiently it awaits more hours of daylight

to dissipate the dusting of frost

and signal it is time to break free

as I restlessly pace my confined space

for the epi curve to take a down turn

and release me from imposed isolation

I step out the door, the day the first bud blooms

blossoms soon abound galore

as I aspire and desire more

and spring from the shackles of this winter

with a viral vortex that induced paralysis

Resilience in the time of COVID

Some wear masks, some work from home, enabling care is what all do
You risk your health, work long hours, push yourselves to keep the system whole
A team is there to do the work, so take some time – take care of you

Our patients and their families see and appreciate from their broader view
Frontline workers, porters, cleaners, and those behind the scenes in every role
Some wear masks, some work from home, enabling care is what all do

Extra meetings, new committees, all jammed back-to-back in your work queue
You juggle family and stay at home restrictions, all stressors beyond your control
A team is there to do the work, so take some time – take care of you

You self-screen, wear PPE, stay six feet apart, for some, self-isolation may ensue
Home and work are now blurred, while lockdown has removed for many their respite goal
Some wear masks, some work from home, enabling care is what all do

Some recruit new staff, design creative schedules, even plan for alternate sites anew
Set up testing, virtual clinics, deal with outbreaks, help vaccination centres to enroll
A team is there to do the work, so take some time – take care of you

No one has to pass alone, hand not held, because of the work you all pursue
Although you may not recognize it – stress, long hours, lack of time away – all take their toll
Some wear masks, some work from home, enabling care is what all do
A team is there to do the work, so take some time – take care of you

How to write a poem about a mask

the poet sat and pondered the mask

that lay slightly crumpled on the table before him

he mused how to put into words the thoughts

that emanated as he contemplated this simple object

would it be free verse or rhyme

perhaps a villanelle, a sestina or pantoum

the key is first to capture the essence of the message

with additional thoughts and ideas

wrapped over and around it

providing context, emotion and interpretation

this is not just an object      nor the nucleus of the problem

it is symbolic of a deeper malaise

the reason for its widespread use

has been vilified and racialized with names

China or Wuhan virus, and Kung flu

yet the mask holds its own power

to combat the spread of this contagion

to create divisions within a country

where leaders are reluctant to recommend its use

and supporters blindly follow in the guise of the constitution

it is a token marking lives disrupted both in health and in work

illness and lives lost, health systems stressed

rent payments not met, unemployment, eviction, food lines

the poet now is challenged to collate and intertwine these thoughts

into a narrative that captures the crux of his ruminations

evoked at this time, by these objects, made of synthetic materials or cloth

which at any other period in our history

would be nothing      but      innocuous

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