Pandemic Poem #16

Pandemic poem #16,  thinking about the ways that critical and creative thinking are collaborative actions; how we all need one another to develop solutions to problems and rely on response to create, from the most individual efforts–writing stories–to the most collective, finding ways to deal with a public health crisis. No human endeavor occurs or exists in a vacuum, and we all to some degree whether acknowledged or not rely on past experiences and our own and others’ responses to them to help us navigate new ones. When writers visit blank pages  for a new project, they can of course draw on their prior experience writing other things, and yet simultaneously have to learn how to write this story. I view this pandemic the same way–our medical and public health experts can draw (and are drawing) on their knowledge of other diseases, but are also looking for answers not yet discovered about how to handle the particular challenges of this one. It’s easier and more effective for humans to innovate if we have and examine the ideas of others who have experienced similar challenges–and so working together, and listening to one another, is our best way forward.

(Reading tip: if you are reading this on your phone screen, turning the screen sideways will result in a correct placement of each line; otherwise, they are broken up in unusual and not especially poetic fashion.)


Tabula Rasa

Someone on Twitter wrote that the key
to understanding Coronavirus is to recall
that before December we knew nothing at all
and public health experts have methods
for thinking about new learning as we go,
incorporating that learning into action,
and I thought: Oh! Like writers, always
visiting the blank page, the new story,
without knowing it or ourself writing it yet–
learning how to tell it as we go,
Incorporating feedback into each new effort.
Reminder we are more alike than we are unalike,
that discovery always happens when we’re
confronted with something new
and answers come from asking questions
and listening for the response,
not just insisting you know what you know
or asking why someone else doesn’t know–
Public health, like writing, is best a collaborative affair.

(Originally written 4/5/2020)


I invite those who are also writing creatively in response to the pandemic to share their words in the comments below. I am sharing the “poem-a-day” on Instagram and Twitter, as well; follow me @mridleyelmes !


About Melissa Ridley Elmes

Professor and writer; Unrepentant nerd; chaotic good. Author of Arthurian Things: A Collection of Poems. PhD, MFA. She/hers. Views my own.
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