Journal of a Pandemic: #WritingwithWoolf #NaPoWriMo2020 #NationalPoetryMonth

For National Poetry Month, I am writing poems inspired by words or lines in Virginia Woolf’s Diary.

Woolf writes longer-than-usual entries in early May 1926, as she chronicles the General Strike that led to workers in many unionized industries striking in solidarity with miners, who were being told they must take a pay cut and work longer shifts. The General Strike isn’t really comparable to the COVID-19 pandemic: it lasted for just nine days, and while people did die, their deaths were accidental. But it’s hard to read these lines from Woolf (written on just the second day of the Strike) without connecting them to our own times:

(one of the curious effects of the Strike is that it is difficult to remember the day of the week). Everything is the same, but unreasonably, or because of the weather, or habit, we are more cheerful, take less notice, & occasionally think of other things.

She is compelled to chronicle the Strike even though she believes she will have no interest in these entries in the future:

I believe it is false psychology to think that in after years these details will be interesting. The war is now barren sand after all. But one never knows: & waiting about, writing serves to liberate the mind from the fret and itch of these innumerable details.

And a couple of days later:

I suppose all pages devoted to the Strike will be skipped, when I read over this book. Oh that dull old chapter, I shall say. Excitements about what are called real things are always unutterably transitory. Yet is it gloomy–& L. is gloomy, & so am I unintelligibly–today because the Strike continues–no railwaymen back: vindictiveness has now seized our masters. Government shillyshallies.

And so a gloomy pandemic poem. “There is nothing important at the moment to record” is a line I have borrowed from the diary.

Photo by Jessica Lewis on Pexels.com

Day #6: Journal of a Pandemic

There is an unexpected tedium to living in historic times.
The laundry must still be folded, dinners prepared, dishes washed.
The body needs tending–food, drink, and movement at regular intervals.

The days bleed into each other, stripped of their usual markers.
Sunday might as well be Wednesday or Friday, and soon will be.
There is nothing important at the moment to record.

Perhaps I would feel better if I alphabetized my pantry or wrote a novel.
My pandemic is a story of lost time, lost productivity.
But this constant low-grade fever of fear is still a sickness.

My journal of a plague year tallies the dwindling toilet paper supply,
Wonders where the bread has gone, collects recipes for canned beans,
Remembers to take its vitamins.

Where is the familiar shape narrative has promised?
The rise & fall of action, the plot diagram I can label with every story beat?
I don’t know how to make an obsession with disinfectant heroic.

There is time and space to sit with myself and examine my thoughts.
The question of the day: windows open or closed?
The question of the day: t-shirts or pillowcases?

The news is what is most with us, and I have to remind you:
It is a sign of privilege to be able to look away.
Is bearing silent, helpless witness a kind of agency?

I feed two stray cats who have taken up part-time residence in the garage.
Neither is thin, & perhaps mine is one of several homes they visit each day.
There is nothing important at the moment to record.


3 thoughts on “Journal of a Pandemic: #WritingwithWoolf #NaPoWriMo2020 #NationalPoetryMonth

  1. This is such a wonderful poem. It speaks of what we are all feeling, the sameness, the difference. Where is the narrative? We search each day for it. I haven’t been able to write much, but it’s getting better. Like anything, time, time. Keep writing!

  2. Pingback: The Week in Reading #imwayr 4/13/20 | the dirigible plum

  3. You have perfectly captured exactly what all of this feels like! I love the metaphor of a “constant low-grade fever of fear,” and I also love the idea about the “familiar shape narrative has promised.” Thank you so much for posting this poem—I don’t think anyone has put all this into words as well as you have here!

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