Bakersfield Poets Respond to COVID 19

I, Portia Choi, of Kern Poetry thank you, our poetry community. These are times of change – a time of mandatory precaution due to COVID-19. It has also been a time of connection with poetry and with creativity.

This story is an initial sharing of poems and interviews of local poets about their response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

I have asked Carla Martin, a Bakersfield poet, to interview Blake Short, Diane Lobre and Jana Lee Wong.

Interview with Blake Short
By Carla Martin

Blake Short shared with us one of his poems at Dagny’s Open Mic Nights on April 5, 2019. He has written a new poem that is particularly relevant to what many of us are feeling during the current COVID 19 crisis. It is included here with his interview.

Q. What inspires you to write your poems?

A. The definition of poetry is “…literary work in which special intensity is given to the expression of feelings.” With that definition in mind, poetry has allowed me to channel my inner-self with a naked, bare intensity, allowing me to convey thoughts of joy, pain, confusion, etc. I am able inhabit a place where all of those emotions define who I am without being ashamed about what I have done or who I am. But allowing my hand to write out a truth that in turn may be my only way of confronting what it is I am trying to understand.

During this time of the corona virus, we have isolated ourselves in order to stop the spread. But for some us, it has brought the best and worst out in us. Isolation can take someone’s head to go to places that it would not normally go. I wrote this poem about that place, This is the poem:

solitude taught me of my nature.

my hollow thoughts

became more real than my dreams.

my heart living in the shade of night.

this imperfection taught me of my selfishness.

for it is we, not I,

that make up this life.

This poem talks about how many of us isolate even when there is no reason to. But we are social creatures–we need each other! Because when we isolate, we believe that we will write something profound, or supposedly intuitive. We may write down some arrogant thought that makes us believe we are better than other people.

When all of this social distancing ends, I hope that people will step out of their comfort zones and connect with people–allowing a true organic relationship to grow! I am extremely guilty of isolating. But after being in this quarantine, I realize that we need each other.

Q. Do you like to read poetry?

A. If you are a poet, and do not read poetry, it causes me to be perplexed. Reading is the way we learn! Digesting the expression of others is essential to how we express ourselves.

Poets that influence me are Pablo Neruda, E.E.Cummings, Robert Frost, William Blake, Sylvia Plath, just to name a few! I can’t say that I have a favorite, but if I had to choose, I would say E.E.Cummings! However, I read Willam Blake’s poem, “The Tyger,” in high school, and I can honestly say that that is when I wanted to write poetry. It was the language of the poem that spoke to my heart.

Q. What advice would you give other folks wanting to create poems?

A. I would like to tread lightly on this question, because when you begin giving creative advice, it can be as though you are admiring yourself in a mirror. The advice is backwards and becomes all about you, not the people you are trying to help/inspire. But if I were to say anything, I would say the cliche line, “be vulnerable” in your writing. The beauty of poetry is, like the definition states, it is about expression! What do you want to say? How do you want to say it? You can choose whatever creative process that releases the truth from your heart and mind. In the words of the sportswriter, Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith, when asked if writing was easy, “Well, no. You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”

Interview with Diane Lobre
By Carla Martin

This is Diane’s uplifting poem, her philosophical response to COVID 19:

Heart Holds Hope

          By Diane Lobre

The mind is racing with potential

For catastrophe and fear

But the heart holds hope

Any spark of hope, joy to be found

In this morass of change

Days pass in an illusion of sameness

Amidst calamity, humanity

Is slowing down, finding

Ways to cope

Hope whispers words

Encouraging us to be kind

To share and learn

Uncharted waters lay before us

Perhaps, it’s time to listen

To our inner voices

And navigate using our innate sense

Of what is right, how to reach

The distant shore together

Finding the eye in the storm

Breathing calm, holding tight

To love and those we love

Being thankful for those who serve

With reverence for selflessness

And humble acceptance

Gifts of concern, friends’ support

Offers of help and giving

These buoy the kernel of hope

Hope, the candle in the window

Lighting our way

Lifting spirits

Q. What role does poetry play during uncertain times? How can it help us? (the individual, the masses, society — you name it!)

A. For me, writing poetry in response to a strong feeling/emotion helps me process the feeling. Instead of focusing on the negative, I try to find and highlight the positive. The news I read, the people around me, my experience within the situation all come into play.

Q. What has been your own personal response to the pandemic? How does your poem explore this feeling?

A. The pandemic has not drastically impacted my life. My health and income have not been affected. The long periods of distancing from family has been the most impactful. There is a fear and sadness buried within me for my family and community. That poem has not been written yet.

Interview with Jana Lee Wong
By Carla Martin

This is Jana’s poem written just as COVID 19 arrived in our lives:

Pandemic 2020

          By Jana Lee Wong 

6 feet back

6 feet under

it hits as fast

as the numbers

in the news

chime daily.

we forget

to breathe

as those struggle

for breath.

fathers afraid

of the plague

their sons bring,

shut doors ghostly

freeways national





all closed

ghost towns

in the wake

of daylight.

we used to read

histories of death,

now we make history

with slow closures,

slow fires to burn

posies in our pockets.

Q. What role does poetry play during uncertain times? How can it help us? (the individual, the masses, society – you name it!)

A. Poetry plays the role of truth to the individual in uncertain times like these, and then it is conveyed to the masses. It is a message to society that sometimes inspires, sometimes provokes, but its overall theme should be timeless.

Q. What has been your own personal response to the pandemic? How does your poem explore this feeling?

A. My own personal response to the pandemic was portrayed in my poem, “Pandemic 2020.” I was, like most people, in shock of the reality unfolding around us with the shutdown and the social distancing. When the hotel canceled my summer reservations, I knew we were going to be in this predicament for the long haul, and when a friend’s parents went into the hospital for the fight of their lives, I knew we had never seen anything like this before in our lifetimes.

Q. How can poets and creative thinkers use our new blocks of free time to hone their craft? What personal challenges or schedules or aspirations are you pursing during this crisis–also a time of opportunity?

A. Of course, there is a positive transformation that I have seen in our community and across the nation. Neighbors are talking to each other more often and helping each other from a distance. Families are finding creative ways to have fun and find meaning in their lives, and artists are finding the time to create. I am personally finding time to write a science fiction novel, and I find the key to getting anything accomplished is to set a schedule for yourself, and try to create something every day, no matter how little it may be. We all want to look back and say, “I did something pretty amazing during the COVID-19 lockdown.” This accomplishment can take many forms, but we have to begin now.