It’s Poetry Friday! Margaret Simon is hosting today’s poetry links from around the kidlitosphere. You’ll find them at her blog, Reflections on the Teche.

Poetry Friday friends, do you remember the early days of the pandemic, when toilet paper was scarce? I remember sitting in the bathroom crying (everything made me cry at the beginning of the pandemic) as I counted squares, rationing TP against the potential disaster.

I had to laugh when I saw that my friend Pat Valdata wrote a poem about the toilet paper shortage. You may remember Pat’s book on women in avaiation, Where No Man Can Touch and the cool concrete poem (shaped like a parachute!) I shared in a 2017 PF post.

Before we get to the toilet paper poem, I wonder how the pandemic has shown up in your writing? Many people have been struggling with the focus it takes to write. Others have turned to daily diaries, recording the historical global event that we are all living through.

Covid has been on my mind too. I took some old notes — jotted down after a nightmare in 2018 — and turned them into a pandemic-themed poem that’s now out on submission. And an old poem of mine about the mythological Danae (one of Zeus’s conquests) transformed into the voice of a woman quarantined and sick with Covid-19.

That poem, “Danae Addresses Covid-19”, and Pat’s “Elegy for Toilet Paper,” appear in a new anthology, BAY TO OCEAN 2020: The Year’s Best Writing from the Eastern Shore Writers Association. I’m giving away two copies of this wonderful anthology, edited by Emily Rich and Tara Elliott. Leave a note in the comments if you’d like a chance to win. I’ll pull names randomly and will announce winners next week, when I host Poetry Friday.

ESWA also runs a wonderful writers’ conference — fully online this year. You can learn more about it here.

Now to the pandemic poems!

Does the shape of “Elegy for Toilet Paper” remind you of anything?

Elegy for Toilet Paper
By Pat Valdata

You spanned the shelves
in plastic bundles: one-
ply, two-ply, bonus extra
jumbo rolls. Sometimes you
were recycled, a tad scratchy,
other times you were so soft
you were almost useless. Yet
we counted you a necessity,
light-years better than leaves,
corncobs (how did that work,
anyway?), pages torn from
the old Montgomery Ward
catalog. In the outhouse, your
tube a cozy spot for spiders.
You came in handy when we
ran out of Kleenex, or when
we needed to wipe splotched
eyeliner or a blob of Clearasil.
When the curse came early,
thick folds of you bought us
time to run to the drugstore.
Nowadays, dear absent friends,
forward thinkers, thinking aft,
who installed upscale bidets
sit smug and clean. The rest
of us count every precious
square to see just how much
we can get away with.

From BAY TO OCEAN 2020: The Year’s Best Writing from the Eastern Shore Writers Association. Published with permission of the author.

By Laura Shovan

There were days before my father-king
ordered me to shelter in this chamber,
when I sat all morning on the harbor wall.
It was not the ships nor their sails
which drew my gaze, but the way light fell —
almost solid — and broke the water’s surface.
I remember the sun had muscle,
gold as the shoulders of a swimmer.
This I conceived long ago. Enter
if you must, god of fevers. Bring to me
the morning light, that first rush
of heat rubbing my eyelids open.

From BAY TO OCEAN 2020: The Year’s Best Writing from the Eastern Shore Writers Association. 

Both Pat and I were nominated for Pushcart Prizes for our work in this anthology. Pat for a punch-to-the-gut poem titled, “I Post Another Sunset on Facebook,” and me for “Danae Addresses Covid-19.” What an honor!

Remember to raise your hand if you’d like to be in the drawing for your very own copy of BAY TO OCEAN 2020.

Poetry Friday is here next week. I’ll be announcing the theme for the 2021 February Poetry Project! See you then.

29 responses to “Poetry Friday: Toilet Paper & Other Pandemic Poems”

  1. Kay Jernigan McGriff says:

    If these two poems are like the rest in the anthology, I’m raising my hand high in the air! I’m afraid I’m one of those who lost focus to write (or even read) during the pandemic. I turned to more hands on creativity (baking bread and crochet) but I’m easing back into my writing habit.

    • Laura Shovan says:

      I’ve been baking too, Kay! Individual poems, I can focus on. But working on my next novel has been a struggle. The extended concentration required — it eludes me with all of anxieties and dangers we are facing.

  2. Jan says:

    Hello dear Laury & Kudos, Kudos! for the lovely Pushcart Nominations, for this new anthology birth celebration here today & for Covid-19 poetry. I especially love your Zeus daughter’s POV. I’ve just read CIRCE & THE PENELOPIAD with my daughter during the Holidays & your poem is right up in their League. Brava, brava! [ I’m exempting myself from the prize raffle as I my book tower is tremendously too much.]

    • Laura Shovan says:

      Thanks, Jan! I am celebrating that nomination — my first! I’ll look for the Circe book you mentioned.

  3. Kathryn Apel says:

    Wow. Your poem, Laura. It’s exquisite. Well done, you. I’m not surprised you’ve been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. And it is such a wonderful contrast to Pat’s Elegy/ode, which is good for a giggle. ? Thank-you for sharing them both. When is the Pushcart Prize announced?

    • Laura Shovan says:

      Thanks, Kat. I hadn’t thought about it, but the poems show the breadth of this anthology and — of course — speak to the many ways we can respond to the pandemic. I’m not sure when the Pushcart Prizes are announced, but they put together an annual anthology of winners. Will keep you posted!

  4. Fran Haley says:

    Laura – thank you for sharing about the Eastern Shore Writer’s Association. Congratulations on your nomination; I will be pulling for you in regard to the Pushcart 🙂 Your Danae poem – I am in absolute awe of it. I am right there seeing “the way the light fell”… it’s so stunning, every line. The TP poem is another “light” touch that is exactly needed now. Deeply grateful for your sharing.

    • Laura Shovan says:

      Thank you so much, Fran. The original draft(s) of this poem had Danae speaking directly to Zeus, her rapist. Changing the person she’s addressing to the virus adds a layer of modernity but it also feels mysterious, even to me. I’m glad Pat’s poem made you smile! It took me a few reads to see those sheets in the shape.

  5. Fran Haley says:

    PS – shape of poem – oh yeah, that ol’ spindle-holder!

  6. Congratulations on your nomination! That’s fabulous. I love how you use the sun in your poem and suggest that pandemics are real things that human’s have experienced and dealt with probably forever. I raise my hand!

  7. Linda Baie says:

    My daughter called me a few days before the lockdown telling me to run to the store for basics like TP, etc. I still ran out until she once again saved me by rising at dawn to beat the rush at Costco. Ah, those stories! And now I see long aisles filled & carts of hand sanitizer, waiting for someone to want them! Congratulations for your Pushcart Prize nomination, well deserved for offering everyone a look at how lonely a cell feels. I would love a copy, Laura. Thanks for offering.

    • Laura Shovan says:

      Thanks, Linda. I like the point you make about the loneliness of a cell. I’ll put your name in the drawing!

  8. Irene Latham says:

    Laura, your poem is gorgeous — YAY for Pushcart recognition!! I love these lines:
    ” I remember the sun had muscle,
    gold as the shoulders of a swimmer.”
    As for my own covid writing — ummm, none! I have intentionally not written about it… though certainly themes of loneliness, anxiety, estrangement, uncertainty have surfaced in my work on other subjects. xo

    • Laura Shovan says:

      Thanks, Irene. Yes, those themes of loneliness, anxiety, estrangement — they have woven their way into our everday.

  9. Linda Mitchell says:

    You’ve been to Greece? That’s exactly what I tried to describe about the light in Greece–and I’m not the only one. It’s different there. Clearer, more personality. What a beautiful poem. I’m so glad it’s in an anthology out in the world. I am sorely, sorely tempted to register for the writer’s conference. I have a fairly big librarians conference the week before and other events in March. But, I”m seriously thinking about it. Thanks for the tip!

    • Laura Shovan says:

      Hi, Linda. I wish! Ms. Jay went for a poetry class a few summers ago and I hope they runt that class again so I can go. Bay to Ocean happens in February or March every year. If not this year, I hope you’ll get to the conference in the future.

  10. Mary Lee says:

    Congratulations on your Pushcart nomination! Well-deserved for sure.

    What a pair of poems! Great reminder that our responses to COVID are all over the map and that’s as it should be, whether from poet to poet, or our own responses from day to day.

    I’d love to be entered in the drawing! Thanks! Looking forward to your February Poetry Project announcement!

    • Laura Shovan says:

      Thanks, Mary Lee. That’s a great point — we’ve lived a lot of experiences during this pandemic year. Far ranging poems will come out of it, I’m sure. I’ll put your name in the drawing.

  11. Ruth says:

    WOW! These are both so fabulous! I love “forward thinkers, thinking aft.” And all of yours! I can’t pick just one line!

  12. Rose Cappelli says:

    Congratulations, Laura! and yes, I would love to win a copy of Bay to Ocean. Both of the poems you shared are like precious gems. Thank you!

  13. My hand is raised! I love both of these poems. How did Pat pack so much into the space of a roll of toilet paper? Congratulations on this anthology. I need to take inspiration and send out more poems. I never feel they are good enough. But that’s for another day. Today, I want to thank you for posting, linking up, and supporting my poetic life.

    • Laura Shovan says:

      Isn’t Pat’s poem clever and wonderful? I hope you will send out to the adult literary magazines and anthologies, Margaret. I know you’ll find success there.

  14. Light is such a gift and can lift us momentarily out of darkness–gorgeous poem Laura, and Congratulations on being nominated for a Push Cart award, what an honor! Pat’s poem is a treat, such lovely humor there, congrats to her too! I’m raising my hand up high for your book give-a-way, if I’m not too late. BTW I scribbled out a poem using Stacey JoyEleven Johnson prompt this morning using the words, Light and Lightly–it’s over on the Ethical ELA blog site she hosted.

    • Laura Shovan says:

      Thanks, Michelle. I loved Stacey’s prompt and tried my own draft about my grandmother, using the word “Warm.”

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Laura Shovan

Laura Shovan is the author of the award-winning middle grade novel, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary. Her second book, Takedown, is a Junior Library Guild and PJ Our Way selection. Look for A Place at the Table, co-written with Saadia Faruqi, in 2020. Laura is a poet-in-the-schools Maryland.

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