Calgary editor puts together eclectic collection of pandemic poetry

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Parliamentary poet laureate George Elliott Clarke. (Bruce Deachman, Ottawa Citizen)
Parliamentary poet laureate George Elliott Clarke. Photo by Bruce Deachman /Bruce Deachman

Which only made collecting the poems all the more labour-intensive. Melnyk put the word out in some traditional ways, contacting many people who he already knew from literary circles here in Calgary and other parts of the country. He contacted the executive director of the League of Canadian Poets, Lesley Fletcher, who put out a call to League members from across Canada as well.

The results were initially overwhelming. More than 150 poets submitted 250 works. Given the timely nature of the topic, Melnyk was under a tight deadline. The poems were written between April and June. It will be available at Calgary bookstores Pages Books on Kensington, Owl’s Nest Books and Shelf Life Books on Oct. 24.

Former Calgary Poet Laureate Sheri-D Wilson.
Former Calgary Poet Laureate Sheri-D Wilson. Calgary

“Finding the poets was my job and then keeping track of the poets,” Melnyk says. “My wife, Julia, created an excel spreadsheet for me. The poets could contribute up to three poems, so it was quite a large spreadsheet: Hundreds of poems, more than 100 poets, where in Canada they were from, their background and identities. It was trying to keep all of that in order. It was horrendous. And then trying to make the decisions of which ones to include or not, it was quite time-consuming.”

Eventually, though, themes began to emerge and the poems began organizing themselves into various categories that became chapter headings for the book: Family, nature, distancing, isolation, grief, resilience and reverie, love and laughter.

While many of the poems have the immediate and visceral quality of writers confronting a mysterious illness and strange time that they haven’t had time to properly process, the collection also offers a wide range of tones. Leslie Y. Dawson, a retired science journalist from Edmonton, writes a fairly light-hearted tribute called Pandemic Plumbing. Central Alberta writer Lori Feldberg offers Covid at the Grocery store, a humorous play-by-play of how to negotiate supermarkets in those early days with instructions that it should be read “with a snappy swinging rhythm!”

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