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Anthologies document early feelings of coronavirus pandemic

  • Bill Chatfield of Peterborough had one of his poems selected for ‘COVID Spring: Granite State Pandemic Poems’. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Bill Chatfield works on a poem on his Peterborough front porch. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Bill Chatfield works on a poem on his Peterborough front porch. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • 'Penning the Pandemic'. Courtesy photo—

  • 'COVID Spring'. Courtesy photo—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 9/16/2020 4:31:11 PM

The coronavirus pandemic has evoked all sorts of thoughts and feelings in just about everybody – from uncertainty and fear to anxiety and loneliness.

And for some, getting those thoughts out, whether it be free hand on a piece of paper or sitting down to type on a computer is the most therapeutic way to deal with the unknown that began back in March. And it was clear to those in the literary field that something needed to be put out there to document all that COVID-19 had brought about.

In early April, the Monadnock Writers’ Group put a call out for submissions for a new anthology. The group typically puts together an anthology every couple of years, but this one was not on their schedule. But as Carl Mabbs-Zeno, Secretary of Monadnock Writers’ Group, put it, this was an opportunity to record the emotions that were felt by the first global pandemic in more than a century.

The anthology, which was originally titled “Coping With COVID”, but ended up with the name “Penning the Pandemic”, was open to any genre, including memoir, poetry, essay, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, romance, or theater – submissions just had to be 5,000 words or less.

With April being National Poetry Month, it was clear that the annual celebration of all things poetry wouldn’t be conducted in the same manner. So New Hampshire Poet Laureate Alexandria Peary set out to host two virtual poetry writing groups each week in April. At the end of the month, New Hampshire residents were invited to submit their work for consideration in an anthology of poems addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. What resulted was the recently released “COVID Spring: Granite State Pandemic Poems”.

COVID Spring

More than 100 writers submitted poetry for the anthology put out by Hobblebush Books in Brookline and after a careful review of the work, 54 poets from around New Hampshire are included “writing of job loss, loneliness and love, masks, social distancing, surreal visitors, uncertainty, graduations deferred, grief, neighborly and less-than-neighborly acts, observing the beginning of the pandemic and making projections about the future, re-calibrating or confirming what it means to be human, to be a resident of this region. In a remarkable range of poetic form and style, these writers provide a thirty-day snapshot of what life was like in the Granite State in April of 2020,” Peary wrote in the anthology’s introduction. Of those 54, four reside in the Monadnock region.

Bill Chatfield, who created Peterborough Poetry Project in January of 2019, is tuned into the poetry scene in New Hampshire and is always submitting his work for various projects. Chatfield said he writes poems just about every day, whether it be about something he saw on the news or simply looking out the window and seeing a bird in a tree.

He doesn’t quite remember where he saw the call from Hobblebush for “COVID Spring” but was quickly drawn to it.

“The idea was what was going on with you in April,” Chatfield said. “A snapshot of what life was like.”

Chatfield said it wasn’t that hard to come up with something and eventually submitted three poems for review. His poem “Slowly” was selected and it’s about the “hesitation in getting back to normal.”

“Quite often a poem will probably touch upon something that everybody felt,” Chatfield said. “It’s a shared experience for everyone.”

With stage 4 prostate cancer, Chatfield said he can ill afford to get coronavirus and as he put it “I was probably a little more cautious.”

Chatfield said he’s been submitting poems for years with what feels like very little success of being selected, but more recently has been featured in various publications.

“I like to think my poetry has gotten better,” he said. “But it just depends if my poetry resonates with whoever is judging.”

Eric Poor of Rindge doesn’t consider himself a poet “but I do a whole lot of writing,” he said.

“I write a poem every now and then when it strikes me,” Poor said. “There are times when a poem is the best way to express a thought.”

But instead of sitting down and trying to craft a poem about what life was like in the month of April, Poor went into his archives to see if he had something that would fit. And what he found was “In the Interim”, which appropriately ends with the line: We’ve been put on pause.

J.E. Tirrell of Peterborough and Rodger Martin of Hancock also had poems chosen.

To help support New Hampshire residents impacted by COVID-19, Hobblebush Books will donate $2 for every copy of COVID Spring sold to the New Hampshire Food Bank. For more, visit https://www.hobblebush.com/product-page/covid-spring.

Penning the Pandemic

Mabbs-Zeno said “our concept was to document, in some degree, the early stages of the COVID crisis.” The goal was to have people write about their experiences, hopes and fears, while leaving the criteria open-ended to allow for more creativity.

Mabbs-Zeno said he was encouraged to see that the group got submissions from not only outside the region, but also the country with pieces coming from places like China, India, Bangladesh and Israel.

“It was kind of surprising to see some of overseas ones. They were very good,” he said.

About half of the submissions were poetry, while the rest fit into categories like memoir, short story and theater. Mabbs-Zeno said he was hoping to see more of the short story variety, but it’s hard to tell what a specific topic will move people to write.

“However I do think we got many interesting pieces out of it,” he said.

In fact Mabbs-Zeno had his play submission chosen by the group of reviewers. It’s about a man who sees something bright in the sky. Soon, the internet is overrun with conspiracy theories that its a space ship that is set to drop COVID on Wuhan, China to clear out the planet for invasion. It even includes a speech by the President.

Mabbs-Zeno said that when something like a pandemic occurs the arts is left to record what the survivors felt. And the group felt this was their way to document what those early impressions were for people.

On Saturday, The Monadnock Writers’ Group will hold its monthly meeting at 10 a.m. in Putnam Park in Peterborough. The meeting will feature readings from “Penning the Pandemic”. Those attending should bring chairs and wear masks. The group will sit in a socially distanced manner and readers’ voices will be amplified so that everyone can hear. 

In case of rain, the event will be held via Zoom. If you wish to be sent the Zoom invitation, send your name and email address to info@monadnockwriters.org. You will receive a notification and the Zoom invitation on Saturday morning, if the Zoom platform is required. If you do not receive such a notification, the reading will be held as planned in Putnam Park. The event is free and open to the public.

While the pandemic has caused some hiccups in the printing of the anthology, Mabbs-Zeno said it will be available at bookstores, including the Toadstool Bookshop, and on Amazon.

For more, visit https://monadnockwriters.org/.




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