BY JENNIFER TRAVERS | COMMUNITY NEWS SERVICE | MAY 28, 2020
During National Poetry Month in April, many creative writers and poetry group participants found it difficult to celebrate without traditional public gatherings and readings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some groups moved to video conferencing and social media to share and celebrate their work. It’s during this unique time that a little poetry project by a Hinesburg woman has remained accessible, reaching people next door and across the country.
The Poetry Newsletter, created and distributed by Laura Budofsky Wisniewski aims to bring poetry directly to people via email.
As a retired yoga teacher who founded Beecher Hill Yoga about 25 years ago, she organized an in-person annual Hinesburg poetry event.
Today her email poetry newsletter has about 375 subscribers who are mostly located in Vermont, but include individuals across the country, including California, Florida and New York.
“I do it simply because I want to be of service. Poetry is a service” explained Budofsky Wisniewski.
“The goal was to create community through poetry.”
For two years, the newsletter has arrived as a new edition created every month. Now during the pandemic, Budofsky Wisniewski said she aims to create a new newsletter every two weeks.
The theme from last month’s edition was a hopeful spin on the current isolation. Each edition takes Budofsky Wisniewski about two to three days to create as she’s the only person who works on the newsletter.
Last month, The Poetry Newsletter for the first time featured two poems from contributors. Budofsky Wisniewski typically shares her own work and curates material including news about local poetry events, a greeting and a published poem with a source link that ties in with the edition’s theme.
The May 7 edition features one of her original works with a timely theme that begins like this:
On week 14 of the quarantine the Levys invent
an imaginary kitten,
a one-eyed stray named Bagel,
whose energy is endless
as is his naiveté.
Each newsletter has a theme; some examples are climate change, immigration and often the season the edition was created during.
Poets Are Comfortable Online
On her Facebook page, Budofsky Wisniewski recently shared a Vanity Fair article titled “Why Poetry Is Having a Moment Amid the Global Quarantine.” It examines how poetry is having a resurgence in pop culture with verses old and new cropping up from social media to advertising.
The timing of people around the globe purposely isolating to curb the spread of a deadly illness as National Poetry Month began helped, too.
In Vermont, the poetry community has managed to thrive despite having to forsake in-person intimate gatherings and readings for the now ubiquitous video conferencing online.
In Burlington, poet-author-illustrator JC Wayne is founder of The Poartry Project, which started in 2014 as a collection of portfolios. Wayne’s other endeavors include a project called Golden Threads of Good Books for Children and mentoring kids at the King Street Center with storytelling through poetry and art nature walks.
Wayne’s monthly newsletter, Voicing Art, circulates in Vermont and among poetry enthusiasts around the world, incorporating 15-30 submissions per collection. Each newsletter has a theme, which usually features artwork in at the Flynndog Gallery in Burlington’s South End. Before COVID-19 shut down public events, Wayne would convene every-other-month gatherings, Voicing Art Poetry Readings, at Nomad Coffee within the same building as the gallery.
Wayne said that the pandemic has not significantly changed local poetry involvement.
“I am writing and creating art much more through participation in more reading events, classes and accepted artworks and poetry in online galleries,” Wayne said, mentioning the Charlotte Grange Open Mic; Highland Center for the Arts “Pigment & Paper” online gallery.
Other venues for poetry may be widespread geographically but are now easily accessible via the internet, Wayne noted, listing other sites such as PoemCity (temporarily) online; White River Craft Center’s “Inspiring Hope, Reimagined” Earth Day exhibit; the Randolph community’s “Spread Art, Sow Hope, Dig In!” exhibit; Rattle Poets Respond; Lake Placid Center for the Arts Thursday art classes; and the Brooklyn Art Library’s weekly “Small Talks” series.”
Many poetry projects already made use of online venues before the coronavirus made them more in demand, Wayne said. For example, April’s Voicing Art reading — done online — included more poetry than usual with double the number of submissions in comparison to prior issues, Wayne said.
“The April 2020 Voicing Art Poetry Reading was shifted by necessity to consideration of themes sparked by COVID-19 and stay-at-home orders (themes of connection and independent interdependence) due to being unable to access the Flynndog Gallery exhibit to photograph it and create the online gallery of photos I usually [use] for our local, national and international Voicing Art poets,” Wayne explained.
The March edition also included outlets for assistance for health and mental well-being due to the stay home order.
The Poartry Project has no age limit with current participants ranging in age from 9 to over 80 years old.
In addition to the Voicing Art readings, group members in different states host Plein Air Poetry of Nature Walks, where people write anagram poems while focusing on the sights, smells and other elements of nature around them.
The Vanity Fair piece that Budofsky Wisniewski shared interviewed poet, basketball coach and gardener Ross Gay who summed up the current moment as it relates to poetry. He said poems “circulate in moments of need” which “are also moments of joy.” Gay told the magazine that from kids to adults, people often ask him for poems, and lately requests have become more pointed: “People haven’t said, ‘Could you write a poem for this moment?’ More people have said, ‘We need a poem.’”
Community News Service is a collaboration with the University of Vermont’s Reporting & Documentary Storytelling program.
Pictured: The Poetry Newsletter is created and distributed by Laura Budofsky Wisniewski.