The Other Columbus: You, too, can be a pandemic poet

Scott Woods
Scott Woods

Since the beginning of the pandemic I’ve had a notable increase in requests to facilitate poetry workshops. With everyone at home contemplating their mortality every day, this is hardly surprising. Poetry is perfect for moments of reflection and self-expression.

The question I get the most once a workshop has been advertised is “What level of poet do I need to be to enroll?” I generally work with poets of all levels of ability, but I do have an easy series of exercises you can do that will help if you’ve ever considered the artform. Just follow along and you’ll be immediately qualified to enter any beginner-level workshop (or crash and burn at an open mic).

Let’s start with a simple 4-line rhyme scheme, ABAB. Don’t get hung up on if it’s any good. We’re just getting something down to work with.

Living a year in pandemic

Under the rule of DeWine

Refusing to ease epidemic

Should qualify as a state crime

Not bad. It’s no Langston Hughes, but we ain’t in Harlem, either. Let’s see that same idea with a different poetic device. Let’s drop rhyme and go for metaphor. 

The pandemic is a long, rolling wave,

seen from afar by our leaders. 

DeWine doesn’t blow the whistle,

leaving everyone in the water to drown.

Now we’re cooking! Things got a little dark there, but that’s OK; it’s true to the subject. Let’s amp things up with a perspective shift, switching from third person to first person. (English class, don’t fail now!)

Gasping for every breath, 

my lungs become tubes and steel.

With the last wind in my shell, I curse 

all ten o’clock curfews for not saving me.

See how personalizing the voice adds resonance to the piece? It doesn’t hurt that the subject dies at the end of the poem because statewide curfews are a joke and not why Ohio has topped 4,000 COVID-19 cases per day since early November, but really the switch in narrative does all the heavy lifting here.

Let’s get fancy. Let’s try it as a haiku. That should be easy, right? A haiku (the traditional Western variant, anyway) is only 3 lines long and contains 17 syllables. And because Americans also don't care about the environment, we don’t need that pesky nature requirement so common in the original Japanese form. Here we go!

Grandma trapped at home

Don’t know if anyone cares

A year without hugs

Nailed it. As an added bonus, let’s give it a title. An untitled poem is a missed opportunity! In a nod to that old Martin Luther chestnut of a quote, let’s call this haiku, “Beer is made by men, DeWine by murderous special interests.”

If you’ve gotten this far, you have four distinct poems in front of you. By any definition of “poet,” having four poems on your person qualifies you to wear the title. Go forth into the world (but only for necessities and fully masked and away from crowds at any point) and live your full and poetic life!