In times of crisis, the poet-priest Daniel Berrigan looked to a worn adage, and flipped it. “Don’t just do something, stand there!” he admonished his friends. He was no slouch as an activist, but he also understood the importance of planting one’s feet firmly on the earth and taking a moment to absorb the implications of the chaos swirling all around. For him, the act of intentionally standing there was just as important as charging into action.
Now here we are, all over the globe, most of us being asked to stand there, stand down in our homes as a deadly virus swirls around us. Standing there is most critical thing we can do to take care of one another, a counterintuitive as it seems, as uncertain as our collective future has suddenly become. In moments of uncertainty and fear like this, many of us turn to poetry for guidance, for solace.
And poetry is beautifully suited to this role. A poem is a literary act of standing there, of planting feet on some particular plot of ground, of taking in the nuances of the atmosphere it inhabits in this space, and conveying that essence to the reader in some astonishing new way. When a poem takes the top of my head off with an unexpected gesture, I am humbled, I am enlightened, I am troubled, I am electrified, I am encouraged to carry on. Isn’t this what we are craving now, stuck in our particular anxieties and isolations?
The poems that have converged for this issue all stand their ground in inimitable ways. Sean Thomas Dougherty’s “The Imaginary Death Certificate of Frida Kahlo” is a tender, discursive meditation on trauma and tangential glimpses of healing. In “Expert of the Apricot Groves,” Valerie Smith offers us a pastoral perspective of fertility and relationship to the land, gifted across generations. Roy Bentley’s “Listening to Lester Young in a Pandemic” considers the current COVID crisis filtered through an elegaic jazz soundscape. When our homebound days all blur together in unending repetition, such poems have a capacity to change us.
In these uncertain days, we hope these poems will stand there with you, and grant you bits of patience and wisdom and courage to carry on. Take care, be well, and read deeply.
Assistant Poetry Editor
(Iain Haley Pollock is on a temporary leave, and will be returning for the next issue)