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'But the poets still write...'

Poetry provides cathartic expression at all stages of pandemic

(Stock image)

Much has been lost this last year, although some things have continued. As nationally renowned Tri-Valley poet Connie Post puts it in "COVID 19 Shelter in Place":

Baseball games and concerts are cancelled

but the poets still write

"These kinds of times are famous for writers -- poets or not -- producing poetry from a deep place," Post said. "I wrote a lot in the beginning, general observations of the tragedy."

She said much of her pandemic writing centers on her 34-year-old son, who has profound disabilities and is in a group home.

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"Because of community care licensing, we can't see him," Post said. "He doesn't understand why he can't come home."

Post was Livermore's first poet laureate, from 2005-09, and she is sheltering in place with her husband Kevin Gunn, who was Livermore poet laureate from 2013-17, her daughter and two grandsons, ages 6 and almost 2.

"Usually I write after the kids go to bed, but I have typically always written at night, mostly after 8 or 9, since I worked during the day," Post said.

"I always knew I was a poet. If I had a poem coming out, I couldn't ignore it," she recalled.

Post headed up a popular poetry reading series for years at a deli in Crockett and still misses it.

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"I'm extroverted, and the pandemic is isolating," she said. "Sometimes it is hard for others to reach out or go on Zoom. I made an effort to get out there."

On the positive side, Post said, she hates traveling so is happy to go online to meet poetry lovers and to promote her book, "Prime Meridian," which came out in January 2020.

"Everyone misses in-person readings but people have come who I never would have met," she said of the online sessions.

Deborah Grossman, a food, drink and travel journalist who was also Pleasanton poet laureate from 2009-11, noted that several writing groups have sponsored open mic events with the pandemic as a theme. Grossman's poems have been published by Mary Sue Gast, poet laureate of Benicia, in a feature called "Going the Distance," which runs several times a month in the Benicia Herald.

Another Livermore poet, Constance Hanstedt, coordinates the poetry critique group in Tri-Valley Writers. She started writing while at University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and worked for years as a technical writer.

"I didn't take poetry writing seriously until the '90s when my dad passed away," Hanstedt said.

In 2014 she joined Tri-Valley Writers, serving as vice president and treasurer before starting the poetry group.

"Now we meet two times a month on Zoom," Hanstedt said. "Without these people, I would be a little lost."

She said at the beginning of the pandemic, she did little writing.

"There were so many distractions, like the news -- debilitating distractions," she recalled. "Then I found that I was taking out my old poems. I thought to work on these and see if I can dig deeper. I have a whole new take on some of them."

One such poem she wrote when her 12-year-old was ice skating and, while practicing a double axel, broke her back. Hanstedt recorded her feelings at the time, including picking up her daughter's science project for her, a dissected frog.

"While revisiting this poem, I thought, 'This is what the devotion of a parent is all about,'" she said.

Since retiring almost three years ago after 30 years as co-owner of the general contracting company GH Group Inc. in Pleasanton, Hanstedt has transitioned from a late-night writer into working during the day.

"I redecorated my office and got a new desk chair," she said.

She hangs a sign on the door, "Writer at work, do not disturb," and closes herself in with her shih tzu, Cody, who also loves to be included with online meetings.

"I say, 'We're going to Zoom now,' and Cody comes running into the room," Hanstedt said with a laugh.

The current Livermore poet laureate is Cynthia J. Patton, an attorney, activist and founder of the nonprofit organization, Autism A to Z.

She is transitioning the quarterly Ravenswood Poetry Series into Verse and Vine: Poetry in Livermore Wine Country, to be held downtown, and she also hosts the Whistlestop Writers Open Mic, now virtual, the fourth Wednesday of each month. She helped start an open mic called Pints and Poetry at McKay's Taphouse & Beer Garden in Pleasanton, which is on hiatus.

"We're hoping to relaunch that once it's OK to meet again," Patton said.

Patton was fully engaged with Livermore literary events last March when the city librarian who does the adult programming, Paul Sevilla, informed her everything was canceled.

"Paul called when I was sitting in a coffee shop, and I almost started crying," Patton recalled. "It seemed like the city was being so extreme -- little did we know."

Sevilla suggested she write a poem about what was happening, to be sent out before the end of March 2020. Patton had recently finished one called "Birds at Night," and as she heard stories about people singing from their balconies in Italy she saw the connection.

"It is forever in my mind tied with the people in Italy -- that was my March poem," she said.

"In April everything seemed to be boring and repetitive," Patton remembered, so she decided to explore writing a "pantoum," a type of poetry that repeats stanzas in a certain format.

"I entertained myself by learning a new poetry form," she said. "That kind of broke the ice, so to speak, and since then I have tried to write a poem every month.

"Early in the pandemic, they were about freaking out, the knobs and the switches being clean, going to the store and feeling like I was taking my life into my hands," Patton continued. "And being stressed out about the numbers -- watching them clicking up and clicking up. It was a lot about stress and anxiety.

"This morphed into sorrow as more and more people I knew started dying."

Patton, who is sheltering in place with her teenage daughter, a dog and two rowdy cats named Jack and Elwood, next wrote about dating during COVID-19, her response to married friends who complained about being with one person 24/7.

"Then in August I wrote about a weird thunderstorm and all the fires," she said.

In September, Patton did a reading of her Pandemic Poetry on YouTube, and other poets asked to share their works so in October she hosted a pandemic poetry open mic event.

This month Patton is presenting an online social justice poetry reading as part of Livermore Reads Together, focusing on "March," the autobiography of late U.S. Rep. John Lewis, with guest poet laureates Indigo Moor of Sacramento, Tama Brisbane of Stockton and Rafael Jesús González of Berkeley.

"All the arts organizations have had to take this big pivot," Patton said. "I am really hoping by the end of the summer that things will be relatively open again."

Poems from the pandemic

Waiting

By Deborah Grossman

The pandemic

is endemic

I sit with

pen in hand

my ink runs dry

I stand

and sanitize

list-make

wash hands again

scrub every room

I search for signs

in the sky

see holes

in the ozone

the clouds

layered

with potholes

I swerve to avoid

the ER

physically distant faces

reeking of fear

On the next corner

arms raised high

angry eyes glaring

above bandanas

My hands are bound

keyboard silenced

waiting for vaccine

waiting for peace

waiting to breathe

Originally printed in the Benicia Herald as part of its "Going the Distance" feature.

#FlattenTheCurve: Guidelines in a Pandemic

By Connie Post

Don't touch anything

not the doorknob

nor elevator button

or the jagged space

between

your cleaved lungs

wear a mask

to protect others

wear a mask

to hide your cyanotic self

the blue of your lips

the exact hue

of the ocean

we've smothered

don't let the

dead whale's carcass

float too close

to your bed

the small bits of plastic

inside the remains

will remind you

of dying

with plastic in your body

as if they

were trying to tell

their own story

and the body bags

washing up to shore

were not our own

Ran April 15, 2020, in califragile.org, a Literary Journal of Climate and Social Justice.

#FlattenTheCurve: COVID 19 Shelter in Place

By Connie Post

Don't get me wrong

The corona virus is

making its way through the world

with its own fury

at night I lay awake

and shudder about

all the suffering

my daughter keeps coughing

and I don't settle into sleep until dawn

but there is something else happening

behind the scenes

a friend you haven't heard from in a while

reaches out and asks if you are okay

people smile at the grocery store

while not touching

Baseball games and concerts are cancelled

but the poets still write

I watch the same movie four times

with my grandson

we stay in more

remember a long-ago vacation

and make popcorn with real butter

we enjoy every morsel of pancakes

and a sandwich with the crust cut off

The virus

how long will it stay with us

how long will we remain

both distant

and isolated

while the earth

shows us the way

Ran April 27, 2020, in califragile.org

#FlattenTheCurve: Proceed with Caution

By Connie Post

Assume

everything is contaminated

assume every surface

you touch

holds an invisible illness

you can spread it

without knowing

you are asymptomatic

but everyone

turns away

they can tell

that fear mutates

as quickly as a virus

the earth

whispered in your ear

long ago

"I will find you

I will find a way

to tell you when I've had

too much"

so you spend your days

looking for your own

antibodies

you search for them

in the soil

where you know

you will someday return

you sanitize your thoughts

you don't say anything to anyone

but you've had a sore throat

for fourteen days

the earth is having trouble breathing

there are no more ventilators

Ran May 11, 2020, in califragile.org

Birds at Night

By Cynthia J. Patton

In the stillness of lingering night,

a congregation of doves, larks,

finches and jays offer joyous chorus,

a serenade to the sullen sun who lazes

in his bed. I wish I could conjure

such hope from the comfort of my

fragile feathers. If only I could

understand what birds must know --

when dawn seems impossibly far,

this is the time to let one's voice soar.

Published in MiGoZine, Sheltering, March 2020. Patton says this poem is forever in her mind connected with the Italians singing on their balconies at the beginning of the pandemic.

Shelter in Place -- A Pandemic Pantoum

By Cynthia J. Patton

Fear blankets life, its tendrils creep in dreams.

We huddle indoors, knobs and switches clean.

Numb out with wine, stare at computer screens.

Hoard food and supplies -- whatever we can glean.

We huddle indoors, knobs and switches clean.

Black swan arrives: our solace is the source.

Hoard food and supplies -- whatever we can glean.

News grows bad. Our wordless screams become coarse.

Black swan arrives: our solace is the source.

Days blur; can't focus on things that matter.

News grows worse. Our wordless screams become hoarse.

Skies weep; we wonder when things get better.

Days blur; can't focus on things that matter.

Numbers soar. Mutual dread expands.

Skies weep; we wonder if things get better.

Pink petals scattered across wet pavement.

Numbers soar. Mutual dread expands.

Numb without wine, stare at computer screens.

Pink petals scattered across wet pavement.

Fear blankets, yet life's tendrils creep in dreams.

Written in April 2020 for National Poetry Month.

The Red Door

By Cynthia J. Patton

We hide behind a red door no one uses anymore

as streets overflow with silence.

I don't know how to live in this brave new world.

A door knob, a package can kill.

A trip to the store overwhelms.

Impossible to hold fear at bay, even with

dried beans, disinfectant, antibacterial soap.

For the first time, it’s a struggle to read.

My brain has room for nothing but numbers.

Our newly rescued cats are less jittery than me.

One begins to purr as I'm squinting at charts.

I put down my phone, stroke silky fur.

Vacant windows weep raindrops.

A frenzy of frogs croaks in the haze.

I draw the first deep breath in days,

wonder

what gruff future will unfold --

beyond the red door.

Dissection

By Constance Hanstedt

Quit moving its stomach,

you might ruin something important!

Chastised, he glanced at our pony-tailed daughter,

her broken back braced and hidden

under a navy Adidas jacket. At twelve she cursed

her bad luck. Falling on a double axel.

Six months off from the sport she'd devoted

her young life to. And now the spectacle on the table

in front of us: a frog belly-up, long dead

and readied for the silver instruments of science.

Brushing loose strands from her pale forehead,

she grimaced at the frog's mottled legs stretched

and pinned like cloth in an embroidery hoop.

I'm ready, she whispered, and he delivered

one swift slice with an old kitchen knife

now destined for the trash can. We gasped

at the wingless flies and flattened worms.

You have a glove on, feel its liver.

And he did, offering smooth, slimy, Jell-O-like.

Her Bic pen recorded every measured detail

until she'd had enough. I wrapped the remains

in the morning paper and scoured the table

with disinfectant. As he carried her up the stairs

to her lavender room, I thought this is what devotion

looks like. A steady hand. Open arms.

A reassuring it's over. Soon it will all be over.

Constance Hanstedt, leader of Tri-Valley Writers' poetry critique group, revisited this poem about her daughter breaking her back and picking up her frog-dissection science project at school. "This is what the devotion of a parent is all about," she decided.

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'But the poets still write...'

Poetry provides cathartic expression at all stages of pandemic

by / Pleasanton Weekly

Uploaded: Sun, Feb 28, 2021, 3:51 pm

Much has been lost this last year, although some things have continued. As nationally renowned Tri-Valley poet Connie Post puts it in "COVID 19 Shelter in Place":

Baseball games and concerts are cancelled

but the poets still write

"These kinds of times are famous for writers -- poets or not -- producing poetry from a deep place," Post said. "I wrote a lot in the beginning, general observations of the tragedy."

She said much of her pandemic writing centers on her 34-year-old son, who has profound disabilities and is in a group home.

"Because of community care licensing, we can't see him," Post said. "He doesn't understand why he can't come home."

Post was Livermore's first poet laureate, from 2005-09, and she is sheltering in place with her husband Kevin Gunn, who was Livermore poet laureate from 2013-17, her daughter and two grandsons, ages 6 and almost 2.

"Usually I write after the kids go to bed, but I have typically always written at night, mostly after 8 or 9, since I worked during the day," Post said.

"I always knew I was a poet. If I had a poem coming out, I couldn't ignore it," she recalled.

Post headed up a popular poetry reading series for years at a deli in Crockett and still misses it.

"I'm extroverted, and the pandemic is isolating," she said. "Sometimes it is hard for others to reach out or go on Zoom. I made an effort to get out there."

On the positive side, Post said, she hates traveling so is happy to go online to meet poetry lovers and to promote her book, "Prime Meridian," which came out in January 2020.

"Everyone misses in-person readings but people have come who I never would have met," she said of the online sessions.

Deborah Grossman, a food, drink and travel journalist who was also Pleasanton poet laureate from 2009-11, noted that several writing groups have sponsored open mic events with the pandemic as a theme. Grossman's poems have been published by Mary Sue Gast, poet laureate of Benicia, in a feature called "Going the Distance," which runs several times a month in the Benicia Herald.

Another Livermore poet, Constance Hanstedt, coordinates the poetry critique group in Tri-Valley Writers. She started writing while at University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and worked for years as a technical writer.

"I didn't take poetry writing seriously until the '90s when my dad passed away," Hanstedt said.

In 2014 she joined Tri-Valley Writers, serving as vice president and treasurer before starting the poetry group.

"Now we meet two times a month on Zoom," Hanstedt said. "Without these people, I would be a little lost."

She said at the beginning of the pandemic, she did little writing.

"There were so many distractions, like the news -- debilitating distractions," she recalled. "Then I found that I was taking out my old poems. I thought to work on these and see if I can dig deeper. I have a whole new take on some of them."

One such poem she wrote when her 12-year-old was ice skating and, while practicing a double axel, broke her back. Hanstedt recorded her feelings at the time, including picking up her daughter's science project for her, a dissected frog.

"While revisiting this poem, I thought, 'This is what the devotion of a parent is all about,'" she said.

Since retiring almost three years ago after 30 years as co-owner of the general contracting company GH Group Inc. in Pleasanton, Hanstedt has transitioned from a late-night writer into working during the day.

"I redecorated my office and got a new desk chair," she said.

She hangs a sign on the door, "Writer at work, do not disturb," and closes herself in with her shih tzu, Cody, who also loves to be included with online meetings.

"I say, 'We're going to Zoom now,' and Cody comes running into the room," Hanstedt said with a laugh.

The current Livermore poet laureate is Cynthia J. Patton, an attorney, activist and founder of the nonprofit organization, Autism A to Z.

She is transitioning the quarterly Ravenswood Poetry Series into Verse and Vine: Poetry in Livermore Wine Country, to be held downtown, and she also hosts the Whistlestop Writers Open Mic, now virtual, the fourth Wednesday of each month. She helped start an open mic called Pints and Poetry at McKay's Taphouse & Beer Garden in Pleasanton, which is on hiatus.

"We're hoping to relaunch that once it's OK to meet again," Patton said.

Patton was fully engaged with Livermore literary events last March when the city librarian who does the adult programming, Paul Sevilla, informed her everything was canceled.

"Paul called when I was sitting in a coffee shop, and I almost started crying," Patton recalled. "It seemed like the city was being so extreme -- little did we know."

Sevilla suggested she write a poem about what was happening, to be sent out before the end of March 2020. Patton had recently finished one called "Birds at Night," and as she heard stories about people singing from their balconies in Italy she saw the connection.

"It is forever in my mind tied with the people in Italy -- that was my March poem," she said.

"In April everything seemed to be boring and repetitive," Patton remembered, so she decided to explore writing a "pantoum," a type of poetry that repeats stanzas in a certain format.

"I entertained myself by learning a new poetry form," she said. "That kind of broke the ice, so to speak, and since then I have tried to write a poem every month.

"Early in the pandemic, they were about freaking out, the knobs and the switches being clean, going to the store and feeling like I was taking my life into my hands," Patton continued. "And being stressed out about the numbers -- watching them clicking up and clicking up. It was a lot about stress and anxiety.

"This morphed into sorrow as more and more people I knew started dying."

Patton, who is sheltering in place with her teenage daughter, a dog and two rowdy cats named Jack and Elwood, next wrote about dating during COVID-19, her response to married friends who complained about being with one person 24/7.

"Then in August I wrote about a weird thunderstorm and all the fires," she said.

In September, Patton did a reading of her Pandemic Poetry on YouTube, and other poets asked to share their works so in October she hosted a pandemic poetry open mic event.

This month Patton is presenting an online social justice poetry reading as part of Livermore Reads Together, focusing on "March," the autobiography of late U.S. Rep. John Lewis, with guest poet laureates Indigo Moor of Sacramento, Tama Brisbane of Stockton and Rafael Jesús González of Berkeley.

"All the arts organizations have had to take this big pivot," Patton said. "I am really hoping by the end of the summer that things will be relatively open again."

Waiting

By Deborah Grossman

The pandemic

is endemic

I sit with

pen in hand

my ink runs dry

I stand

and sanitize

list-make

wash hands again

scrub every room

I search for signs

in the sky

see holes

in the ozone

the clouds

layered

with potholes

I swerve to avoid

the ER

physically distant faces

reeking of fear

On the next corner

arms raised high

angry eyes glaring

above bandanas

My hands are bound

keyboard silenced

waiting for vaccine

waiting for peace

waiting to breathe

Originally printed in the Benicia Herald as part of its "Going the Distance" feature.

#FlattenTheCurve: Guidelines in a Pandemic

By Connie Post

Don't touch anything

not the doorknob

nor elevator button

or the jagged space

between

your cleaved lungs

wear a mask

to protect others

wear a mask

to hide your cyanotic self

the blue of your lips

the exact hue

of the ocean

we've smothered

don't let the

dead whale's carcass

float too close

to your bed

the small bits of plastic

inside the remains

will remind you

of dying

with plastic in your body

as if they

were trying to tell

their own story

and the body bags

washing up to shore

were not our own

Ran April 15, 2020, in califragile.org, a Literary Journal of Climate and Social Justice.

#FlattenTheCurve: COVID 19 Shelter in Place

By Connie Post

Don't get me wrong

The corona virus is

making its way through the world

with its own fury

at night I lay awake

and shudder about

all the suffering

my daughter keeps coughing

and I don't settle into sleep until dawn

but there is something else happening

behind the scenes

a friend you haven't heard from in a while

reaches out and asks if you are okay

people smile at the grocery store

while not touching

Baseball games and concerts are cancelled

but the poets still write

I watch the same movie four times

with my grandson

we stay in more

remember a long-ago vacation

and make popcorn with real butter

we enjoy every morsel of pancakes

and a sandwich with the crust cut off

The virus

how long will it stay with us

how long will we remain

both distant

and isolated

while the earth

shows us the way

Ran April 27, 2020, in califragile.org

#FlattenTheCurve: Proceed with Caution

By Connie Post

Assume

everything is contaminated

assume every surface

you touch

holds an invisible illness

you can spread it

without knowing

you are asymptomatic

but everyone

turns away

they can tell

that fear mutates

as quickly as a virus

the earth

whispered in your ear

long ago

"I will find you

I will find a way

to tell you when I've had

too much"

so you spend your days

looking for your own

antibodies

you search for them

in the soil

where you know

you will someday return

you sanitize your thoughts

you don't say anything to anyone

but you've had a sore throat

for fourteen days

the earth is having trouble breathing

there are no more ventilators

Ran May 11, 2020, in califragile.org

Birds at Night

By Cynthia J. Patton

In the stillness of lingering night,

a congregation of doves, larks,

finches and jays offer joyous chorus,

a serenade to the sullen sun who lazes

in his bed. I wish I could conjure

such hope from the comfort of my

fragile feathers. If only I could

understand what birds must know --

when dawn seems impossibly far,

this is the time to let one's voice soar.

Published in MiGoZine, Sheltering, March 2020. Patton says this poem is forever in her mind connected with the Italians singing on their balconies at the beginning of the pandemic.

Shelter in Place -- A Pandemic Pantoum

By Cynthia J. Patton

Fear blankets life, its tendrils creep in dreams.

We huddle indoors, knobs and switches clean.

Numb out with wine, stare at computer screens.

Hoard food and supplies -- whatever we can glean.

We huddle indoors, knobs and switches clean.

Black swan arrives: our solace is the source.

Hoard food and supplies -- whatever we can glean.

News grows bad. Our wordless screams become coarse.

Black swan arrives: our solace is the source.

Days blur; can't focus on things that matter.

News grows worse. Our wordless screams become hoarse.

Skies weep; we wonder when things get better.

Days blur; can't focus on things that matter.

Numbers soar. Mutual dread expands.

Skies weep; we wonder if things get better.

Pink petals scattered across wet pavement.

Numbers soar. Mutual dread expands.

Numb without wine, stare at computer screens.

Pink petals scattered across wet pavement.

Fear blankets, yet life's tendrils creep in dreams.

Written in April 2020 for National Poetry Month.

The Red Door

By Cynthia J. Patton

We hide behind a red door no one uses anymore

as streets overflow with silence.

I don't know how to live in this brave new world.

A door knob, a package can kill.

A trip to the store overwhelms.

Impossible to hold fear at bay, even with

dried beans, disinfectant, antibacterial soap.

For the first time, it’s a struggle to read.

My brain has room for nothing but numbers.

Our newly rescued cats are less jittery than me.

One begins to purr as I'm squinting at charts.

I put down my phone, stroke silky fur.

Vacant windows weep raindrops.

A frenzy of frogs croaks in the haze.

I draw the first deep breath in days,

wonder

what gruff future will unfold --

beyond the red door.

Dissection

By Constance Hanstedt

Quit moving its stomach,

you might ruin something important!

Chastised, he glanced at our pony-tailed daughter,

her broken back braced and hidden

under a navy Adidas jacket. At twelve she cursed

her bad luck. Falling on a double axel.

Six months off from the sport she'd devoted

her young life to. And now the spectacle on the table

in front of us: a frog belly-up, long dead

and readied for the silver instruments of science.

Brushing loose strands from her pale forehead,

she grimaced at the frog's mottled legs stretched

and pinned like cloth in an embroidery hoop.

I'm ready, she whispered, and he delivered

one swift slice with an old kitchen knife

now destined for the trash can. We gasped

at the wingless flies and flattened worms.

You have a glove on, feel its liver.

And he did, offering smooth, slimy, Jell-O-like.

Her Bic pen recorded every measured detail

until she'd had enough. I wrapped the remains

in the morning paper and scoured the table

with disinfectant. As he carried her up the stairs

to her lavender room, I thought this is what devotion

looks like. A steady hand. Open arms.

A reassuring it's over. Soon it will all be over.

Constance Hanstedt, leader of Tri-Valley Writers' poetry critique group, revisited this poem about her daughter breaking her back and picking up her frog-dissection science project at school. "This is what the devotion of a parent is all about," she decided.

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