It’s my turn to weigh in on the subject of masks.
To be clear, I agree with the scientists and doctors who tell us that we wear cotton or disposable or even bandana masks for others, not for ourselves. It turns out that our masks help deflect the micro-drops of virus even if they are not the N95 quality that medical personnel wear. But we wear them in case we have the virus so we don’t spread it and to encourage a social compact that if we all wear them, fewer will get sick or die.
It probably was in February when my daughter-in-law sent me a pattern for cloth masks and suggested I could make them to help medical people in need. By the time I made my first few, the call for masks for medical personnel required a different pattern that allowed the insertion of filters as liners. I had just barely figured out my until-then-unused new portable sewing machine and the instructions Andrea gave me. The new pattern, for hospital masks, looked daunting. A lot of measuring and folding would be required.
The experts in the US and WHO were saying that it would not be advisable for average people to begin wearing masks as they do in Asia. I made masks for my family and my son’s store employees anyway.
But then the experts changed their tune. They said they hadn’t recommended masks because there was a shortage of them for medical personnel, and they were afraid people would rely on masks too much and not take the other precautions such as hand washing and not touching their faces. Ever since, the experts on TV have reminded and begged us over and over to wear masks if we come around other people.
Meanwhile, my mask sewing was improving (my apologies to those who got the first batch), and I finally got some elastic and the right type of wire for the nose area from Amazon. A friend’s daughter asked for masks for her older parents; so, I volunteered, and I also offered masks to my church members (virtually all of us are elderly.)
Ever since, I’ve been making masks every few days. I even put some in the Little Free Pantry behind our church for people in need. But not everyone has bought in.
My son who is scrupulous about health habits and works in a factory--where they were laid off for two weeks due to a case of Covid 19--was frustrated that the men in the plant, including the managers, won’t wear masks. The managers still aren’t, but since there have been two additional cases, and maybe because of the experts on television, now almost half of the workers are wearing them. His co-workers made fun of the masks I made for him, but he has since found more effective masks that look more ordinary, I guess.
Being over 65, I haven’t gone away from home much. I’ve seen crowds of people on TV who ignore both social distancing and mask wearing requests. I’ve heard about Trump supporters who become angry when asked to wear a mask and sometimes become violent.
In our small Georgia town, there are quite a few mask wearers. I’ve noticed that more African Americans than whites are masked up.
I plan to stay the course, keep wearing mine, and make more if anyone needs them. Both for ourselves and for others, we’re better safe than sorry, And please step back if you get too close to my face!
Recently someone close to me asked my opinion about her poems. And another old friend is sending me his poetry book to review and edit. In fact, I did edit a book of poems for a former student about a year ago.
I find commenting on the poetry of others to be very tough!
When, in the seventies, I began writing poems fairly frequently, I did it for enjoyment and self-expression. As an English literature instructor, I was familiar with much poetry, most of it old. I did sit in on a colleague’s modern American poetry class, however, where I gained a deep appreciation for e.e. cummings, William Carlos Williams, and Wallace Stevens. I’m sure I began to try modeling my work after theirs.
In the eighties, I was tremendously fortunate to become involved in the Macon Poetry Group and later the Georgia Poetry Circuit. Adrienne Bond got the poetry group started, and other members included Judson Mitcham, Seaborn Jones, Mike Cass, Adrienne’s sister Charlotte, and a few others. We were not a group of hobbyists. We were very serious about improving our ability to write good poetry. Members made detailed, constructive recommendations. There was little deflection to avoid hurting members’ feelings or vanity. Still, one (well-published) member admitted he only brought his poems after he was sure he had thoroughly revised them. Both Jud and Adrienne had been to the Breadloaf Writers Conference in Vermont, and their experiences there must have informed our discussions. Several of us subsequently attended writers’ conferences at Callanwolde in Atlanta, at Sandhills at Augusta College, even as far away as Birmingham and Indiana University. I gradually found my voice, at least some of the time, and I succeeded in getting a few poems published in minor literary magazines. You might say that some principles or rules were drilled into me by these experiences, except that I also learned that any rule about writing poetry can be broken for a reason.
So I feel that before I give constructive criticism to other people who have written, I ought to provide a disclaimer, or several. As a result of my experiences, I have developed biases and tastes as well as a recognition that there are all kinds of poets and poetry in this world. The kinds of poems I work to write are not the only forms of value, not the only ones that are published. Each poet has to decide on his or her form, but, as it was for me, individuals can learn from reading other poets and understanding their techniques.
My biases and tastes derived from the advice of William Carlos Williams, Kenneth Koch, and the good poets I was privileged to interact with. They include, but are not limited to the following:
* When possible, use short or even single syllable words with clear vowel sounds.
* Longer lines with five or six or more strong stresses carry more weight or seriousness than shorter lines. A caveat: I love the work of Williams who in some of his poems attempted to emulate American speech, using three beats per line.
* Deciding where to end a line is very important. It can be a full stop, or it can lean into the words in the next line.
* The more images and the fewer abstract and/or Latinate words, the better.
* Less punctuation is called for than in prose, but some mechanism should be used to indicate ends of sentences or transitions. Poems should convey complete thoughts in most cases rather than being a stream of words.
* Titles are very important and should bring something to the poem that you maybe couldn’t put in the lines of the poem, but it’s possible for the first line to also serve as the title.
However, these are only biases and tastes, even if I do share them with other poets. Out in the world of published and recognized poetry, there are prose poems, abstract poems that make little or no literal sense, Walt Whitman type poems that go on and on, and, of course, a panoply of rhymed and metered options, both old and new.
I will inject these ideas into my comments on my friends’ poems, but I wouldn’t dare to tell them what they should say.
Now, having considered all of this, I need to go back to work and write more poems.
It's still the pandemic and I'm still staying at home. Instead of walking at the park or on a walking track or at the mall, I'm walking on the road near our house.
I've changed my route since a cheerful young dog insisted on following me home if I went down Windy Hill to the cul-de-sac and back. Now, I leave home, turn left, turn right at Daniel Drive crossing the road, go past the university president's residence down to the Daniel Drive cul-de-sac, and home. I see some berry bushes before reaching the president's house, and I've been waiting to see if ripe berries show up. But the bushes are about 12 feet from the road, with a section of tall grass between the road and the bushes, and I'm constantly in mind of Dr. Houston Stallworth's admonition, "Take a quick look-see before you step." That bit of wisdom was imparted when my mobile home was being set up on his property in August 1968 before I began my 46+ year career at Fort Valley State, or as some like to say, "The Fort Valley State University." (It was a college then.)
Dr. Stallworth said this when we saw a relatively small rattlesnake on the lot where we were setting up. Those bushes on Daniel Drive today look like a prime location for snakes. In fact, I saw a black snake go into the bushes closer to the president's house just the other day.
Since my Daniel Drive walk is a little short, I thought I'd try turning right out of my driveway, walking down to the next driveway, then turning back and heading to Daniel Drive. And guess what I discovered--blackberries along the road in the grass! Today was my second day bringing a small paper sack and picking the ripe ones. It is hard to step between the little plants, not quite bushes or vines, and not step right on top of some berries. While I was concentrating on where I was planting my feet, a truck driver stopped along side of me and said, "Watch out for rattlesnakes!"
"I am," I said, and I gave the ok sign with my fingers. But I admit that I watched my step even more closely on the rest of my walk.
I'm fascinated by the way different experiences that we have connect. That's why my stream of consciousness is so active (and I leave people behind in my conversations so frequently). Today’s blackberries remind me of the times, only two years ago, when our granddaughter Alana was three, or maybe it was when she was two. My daughter-in-law Andrea, Alana, and I would go to the berry patch in a vacant lot around the corner from their house in Grant Park, in Atlanta. I didn't think anything about snakes there, although, I admit, I did see a snake in the weeds on the edge of their property when they first moved into their house in Grant park.
Maybe I can write a poem about snakes and berries some time. But for now, a stream-of-consciousness blog will have to suffice.
Observations on the subjects of friends, family, country, cultures and nature.