Foyle Young Poets Recommend: Meditations in an Emergency

What to do in self-isolation? Read! We’re asking Foyle Young Poets to offer poetry recommendations for these strange times. Today, Lydia Wei and Em Power suggest some poems to read and some ways of coping with the changing circumstances. Check back later this week as we share more reading tips from Foyle Young Poets, and find yesterday’s feature here!

Lydia Wei: Loneliness Is Still Time Spent With The World

Lydia Wei smiles, wearing a checked dark green, red and yellow shirt, with Big Ben in the background
Photo: Hayley Madden for The Poetry Society

Book cover of Night Sky with Exit Wounds“I think I’ve forced about everyone I know to read Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong, but here is another nudge. It was the first contemporary poetry collection I read, and the language was beautiful but still felt accessible to me. It reminds me of a folk song rendered in contemporary verse. Plus, these lines from ‘Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong’ feel especially relevant right now:

& remember,
loneliness is still time spent
with the world.

No matter how distant we all are right now, there’s still the world, isn’t there? Still films and afternoon sunlight and water pitchers and all that. We just have to re-calibrate how we’re getting by with the world.

Since I talk about Ocean Vuong all the time though, here is a non-Ocean reading recommendation: Meditations in an Emergency by Frank O’Hara. I love O’Hara because I think he’s absolutely brilliant at making the smallest, most mundane life details beautiful. We’re at home all the time now, and we can turn a microscopic eye onto the mundane details of our lives – and O’Hara’s poetry is a wonderful reminder that maybe it’s okay, looking to find beauty in these ordinary moments.

As for a single poem: I’ve been reading ‘Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe’s last words were “more light”, so I’m pretty sure mine will be’ by Lyd Havens a ton lately because it feels grounding to me (to find it on that page you have to scroll a bit, and beware: the website contains strong language). Though we’re all at home, I think we can still want “more everything / everything / everything” – we can still try to take in the world fully, fully, fully. Right now, I want more midnight Zoom calls with my friends, more 24-hour film livestreams, more empty avenues where I can walk right down the middle of the street, more springtime trees in bloom, more silly mistakes while we all try to figure out what in the world is going on with online classes, more bad-autocorrect texts.

For me, the biggest adjustment has been losing all of my daily rituals. No more third-period art shenanigans with my favorite teacher, no more waiting all day for the lunch bell to ring, no more walking home from the bus stop. My sleep schedule’s been insane right now too; I think I go to sleep around 3 in the morning and then wake up at noon. (At least I’m getting nine hours of sleep each night?) My main coping strategy in this timeless vortex is building myself a schedule and routine – I have a certain allotted time every day to do classwork, to take a stroll outside, to cook… Also, I’ve been scouring the interwebs for online film screenings, poetry workshops, readings, and the like. It’s fun to schedule events to look forward to – makes me feel like I’m having a weekend out on the town. I’ve also been trying to write poetry pretty regularly! I’ve been following the NaPoWriMo challenges on the Poetry Society’s Instagram, and the daily poetry-writing is also a lovely routine to keep up.”

Lydia Wei is a 17 year old writer from Maryland, USA. She has been cobbling words together in nonsensical phrase ever since she was 12 years old. Her work has been recognized by the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award 2019, Young Poets Network, the National Young Arts Foundation, and the National Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. During her free time, she enjoys listening to SALES, making blueberry biscuits, and going for very long walks.

Em Power

Photo of Em Power in a flowery pink shirt typing at a computer, with a sheet of paper to one side
Photo: Dan Haworth for The Poetry Society

Cover of Surge by Jay Bernard“With all this new spare time I finally got around to reading Surge by Jay Bernard and it’s just as incredible as all my friends told me it was. I had read a lot of poems from Surge individually, but as a collection it just hits different. Bernard’s command of language is incredible, and the way they weave together poems about the New Cross fire of 1981 and the Grenfell Tower fire is very moving. It’s a hard read, focusing on England’s systemic racism and classism – but it’s also a study of solidarity in the midst of tragedy. My favourites in the collection include ‘Patois’ and ‘Pem-People’.

As for a single poem – anything by Mary Oliver (we all need a dose of nature right now), but in particular her poem ‘August’. I think it really speaks to newfound feelings of unity that have emerged due to this crisis as well as the sudden awareness of time and mortality. The poem’s frame of reference is small and mundane in a way that invites you to think about the underlying meaning more intimately. I feel it’s quite a warm poem too, despite the heavy subject matter, though the bleakness of the final stanza stops it from being too saccharine: Everything wrong / and nowhere to go.’

I can’t lie – my days have very little structure right now.  I’m waking up pretty late in the day, staying up until the early hours of the morning, and I’m not always going on my daily government allocated walks. Despite this I think I’m being fairly productive. I’m participating in NaPoWriMo and have written nearly every day since April began. I’m reading a lot more too; I recently finished Maurice by E.M. Forster and I’m currently reading The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde and The Butterfly Hotel by Roger Robinson. I’m also currently writing a renga with some of my friends and baking a lot of banana bread. I’m mostly coping by planning everything I’m going to do after the lockdown is over! My priorities are having a big party and kissing all my mates on the nose.”

Em Power is a 17 year old from West London. In her spare time she enjoys playing Animal Crossing and taking personality quizzes. She hopes to study English at university. Em was a commended Foyle Young Poet in 2017, and a top 15 winner in 2018 and 2019.

What have you been reading? Do you have any recommendations? Share them with us in the comments! And find out more about the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award for 11-17 year olds and start your entry here.

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