America's Oldest Poetry Journal

Lockdown Dispatches from Poet Lore’s Contributors (Part 1)

As we worked to complete the newest issue of Poet Lore during various stages of lockdown, re-opening, and constant social distancing, we found ourselves in awe of our contributors and the work they’ve trusted us to publish. Most of our subscribers only have the opportunity to “meet” our contributors through their poems, but here we’ve asked a few of them to share what they’ve been reading and how they’ve been staying creative and inspired during the pandemic.

henry 7. reneau, jr.

If you’re able to read right now, what book(s) might you recommend to our readers?

It’s funny how the mind works in self-imposed isolation, at a social distance from human contact. My reading list, at present, mirrors my wanting to reach out and touch the wonder and upswell of empathy of the cautious world we all find ourselves in at the moment, I believe connection, the human touch, is heavy on the minds of humanity in this time of pandemic and upheaval. The Blue Kali by Scherezade Siobhan has served to keep my mind busy the last few months. As a poet, she really has a polyglottal, multicultural, geopolitical, empathic way with words. There’s so much to see, and feel, in her writing. Reading anything written by her gives me a more confident and optimistic perspective on my place in the world. 

What do you find yourself returning to for inspiration/guidance and why (could be examples from anywhere, including creative writing, visual art, film, etc.)?

I’ve always been a curious person. I want to know all that came before, and how it all works now. Everything!!! So, I’m usually reading, or re-reading, a number of different books at any given moment. At present the list includes Anne Waldman’s Trickster Feminism, Hiroshima by John Hersey, Year of the Monkey by Patti Smith, In The Beginning by John Gribbin, and Accordion Crimes by E. Annie Proulx. I suppose that is what you would call an eclectic mind. 

And, along with the police brutality protests I’ve been a part of the last couple months, I’ve also been bingeing The Expanse and The Handmaid’s Tale. For inspiration. 

Leah Umansky

If you’re able to read right now, what book(s) might you recommend to our readers? 

I haven’t been able to read in quite some time. I was too fixated on losing my cat in February, dealing with the pandemic, suddenly teaching full time middle and high school english via zoom, while following the “old” bell schedule all day, and all of this while not being in my own apartment. It was rough. The only book I read when the pandemic hit was Jenny Offill’s Weather. It was a godsend. I loved it. Now that school is over, I’m reading again and I’m grateful. My attention span isn’t fully back but I’ll take what I can get. I just finished Lily King’s Writers & Artists, which I loved, and John Green’s Paper Towns (for summer school, which made me laugh-out-loud!).  

In terms of poetry, I just finished Rachel Eliza Griffith’s Seeing the Body, which is so heartbreakingly beautiful, I cried. Currently on my nightstand are the following new books I can’t wait to dive into (fiction and poetry): Elizabeth Lindsay Rogers’ The Tilt Torn Away from the Seasons, Sarah Gerard’s True Love, Eimear McBride’s Strange Hotel, Shane McCrae’s The Gilded Auction Block, and Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys. The list goes on and on…

What do you find yourself returning to for inspiration/ guidance and why (could be examples from anywhere, including creative writing, visual art, film, etc.)?

What I find myself returning to for inspiration and guidance is really one of the most beautiful things about this dreadful pandemic and it makes me feel old saying this, but it kind of brings me back to being a teenager in the 90s. It’s so nice to call friends again. It is a special kind of connection, more so than zoom.  Also, what’s really helped me is listening to music. I’ve gone down a real rabbit hole of the music I loved as a teenager, and still love. It has really given me a sense of calm and reassurance for some reason.

I also have found myself meditating more, and writing more. When the pandemic really hit, I was trying to do the whole 30/30 poetry thing for National Poetry Month and I’m so grateful I did because I really wrote a lot. It carried into May and then June hit and it sort of took a turn. Having my weekly workshop with my friends keeps me motivated and inspired. So does journaling actually, but I’ve been keeping a journal since elementary school.

Another thing that I really find comfort in is taking long walks in Central Park or along the Hudson River. I’m lucky to live near both and that cliche about seeing nature and it doing wonders for you — well, it’s true. It helps.

I’m not a big podcast person but the On Being podcast has really given me a sense of calm, ease and overall, knowledge. It has inspired new poems and really just given me an education on many topics.

Lastly, I love television. Shows that have given me life during this pandemic are: Schitt’s Creek (I named my cat after Moira Rose), New Girl, Black AF, Dispatches from Elsewhere, High Fidelity, and soon I will watch the new season of Grace and Frankie which always makes me laugh out loud. 

Chinua Ezenwa-Ohaeto

If you’re able to read right now, what book(s) might you recommend to our readers?

There are so many beautiful books out there. To choose is like asking between food and water. But because I must, I will have to list ten poetry books that are close to memory. In no particular order, the books include: The Carrying by Ada Limón, The Undressing by Li-Young Lee, Madman At Kilifi by Clifton Gachagua, In the Nude by Logan February, Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky, Night Sky With Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong, Oculus by Sally Wen Mao, Santificum by Chris Abani, Sacrament of Bodies by Romeo Oriogun, and The Careless Seamstress by Tjawangwa Dema.

What do you find yourself returning to for inspiration/guidance and why (could be examples from anywhere, including creative writing, visual art, film, etc.)?

I often find myself reading more prose works than poetry. I am a poet, of course. And for this, I’ll write more about poetry. For inspiration and guidance, I return to the poems by Taiye Ojo and Nome Emeka Patrick. These poets are wonderful with imageries and form. They deal well with the plains of memories, history and grief. Also, one can feel great tenderness of being, longing and family in their stanzas.

These two have been of great inspiration and guidance by shaping my poems and thought processes and bringing to me new ways of understanding my environment.

Ashley Keyser

If you’re able to read right now, what book(s) might you recommend to our readers? 

All I want to read now is prose by poets — Ruefle, Abdurraqib, Christle, Rankine — or strange unclassifiable prose(?)-things (one example: Sumita Chakraborty’s prose-poem series, “Essay On [  ]”). 

Maybe it’s the unsettled, unsettling and (I hope) transformative quality of 2020 that makes me impatient with genre. Always, though, genre’s limits have more to do with marketing than with style. I am also turning to older books which get kind of squirmy under any label. On my nightstand now is Sei Shonagon’s Pillow Book from the 10th century. I recommend reading her prose-poem-y lists (“Hateful Things,” “Embarrassing Things,” “Things that are truly splendid,” etc.) and then writing one of your own.

What do you find yourself returning to for inspiration/guidance and why (could be examples from anywhere, including creative writing, visual art, film, etc.)? 

Lately I’m conducting Tarot readings for anybody who wants one. Sometimes friends, more often strangers. It doesn’t give me guidance, exactly, and I don’t mean to imply I’m trying to guide anyone else. But my brain is full of weary patterns, biases, ego trips. I welcome any interruption, and I can find that in the Tarot’s random, evocative images. Shuffling cards, re-shuffling thoughts, making room for something new to come in.