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Inspiring Artists: Former Greater Sudbury poet laureate publishing ‘pandemic poetry’

Kim Fahner said COVID-19 has creeped into her writing since March 
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Kim Fahner was Greater Sudbury’s poet laureate from 2016 to 2018. (Supplied)

The COVID-19 pandemic has meant hard times for local artists, with summer festivals and performances cancelled.

Even with Greater Sudbury now in Stage 3 of the reopening, and the province giving the green light for performance venues to reopen, it remains to be seen how the local arts scene will adapt — although artists have already been doing plenty of that during the pandemic.

Given the unusual situation, we decided to put the spotlight on local creators of all kinds this summer, whether they’re musicians, actors, filmmakers, authors or fine artists. Many have been putting out new work amid the pandemic.

Kim Fahner, Greater Sudbury’s poet laureate from 2016 to 2018, said the pandemic has creeped into her writing since COVID-19 hit Canada in March, seemingly without her making a conscious choice about the matter.

Although she couldn’t focus on writing her novel this spring, she found herself writing a lot of pandemic poetry.

“I was talking to some other friends — I’m in a group of women poets — and I said ‘Is this normal? I can’t write anything but pandemic poetry,” she said. “They were all saying they were writing the same sorts of things.”

She said she found her images and metaphors changed — “there are edges piercing each other — the images and things — and the style is different for me.”

One of Fahner’s poems, entitled “Holidays are hard, but pandemics are harder” (see below), has just been published by a literary blog called Dusie.

Holidays are hard, but pandemics are harder

When time pours itself out into strange new shapes,
when you need to find light by looking through shadows,
when your snow tires will be on until July,
and when feral squirrels have taken over the street.

Eggs in a nest, tiny and translucent;
bird on a wire, head tucked under wing;
wild gate that bangs into itself, over
and over, just down the block in nightdark;
chalk drawing blown away by gusts,
pavement washed clean of fading marks.

There’s a stamp on a ghost letter
that was carried by a worn down raven,
from a place that might never have been,
from someone who’s been dead for years,
and the air shimmers in waves now,
and whales swim alongside mermaids
in those Venetian canals, not knowing
where they ought to go next.

Pandemics are harder, it seems,
and things that once seemed solid
are fleeting, and things that once
seemed real are not. Go ahead now.
Try and spin Fortune’s wheel.

Fahner said the poem’s title came from a text exchange she had with a friend over the Easter weekend, in the early days of the pandemic, about holidays already being difficult when you’re on your own, but COVID-19 adding a new dimension to this reality.

The poem also deals with the idea of time, and how it seems to stretch when you’re under quarantine, as well as the natural world seeming to be bigger.

Fahner said she’s also had two poems accepted for publication in a recently-created literary journal called The Quarantine Review. The Canadian journal was created “to alleviate the malaise of social distancing with exceptional writing and artwork.”

If you go back in history to previous pandemics, including the 1918 flu epidemic of a century ago, they also inspired writers and artists, Fahner said.

“It’s something that other humans have dealt with in history,” she said. “There’s literature you can research. When massive events happened with illness in human history, the art around those times is kind of really fascinating to me now, I guess because it’s a precursor to where we are creatively.

“Creatively, I think it forces your head into different spaces than it’s been before, whether you want it to or not.”

As for what Fahner is doing now, several months into the pandemic, she said she’s working on her play as she gets ready to return to the classroom.

She is going back to her job teaching English at Marymount Academy this fall amid COVID-19 after having been on leave while working on writing projects. “It’s nerve-wracking,” she said.

If you or someone you know has a project you think we should write about with our “Inspiring Artists” feature, email us at hulrichsen@sudbury.com. Be sure to include contact information.




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