By Jane Marla Robbins
They were a terrifying three months, people dying, food lines, lost businesses. I apparently communicated that terror. Then why would my poems be comforting, instead of debilitating?
Perhaps it was the sly humor, or the photos, with their sense of life’s renewal. So that people could read the poems and not be sick from focusing on the 100,000 deaths; and so that I could work on the poems and not be sick, myself. Perhaps I was able to offer some relief by trying, unconsciously, to alleviate my own discomfort,
And maybe, simply, because, in times of hardship, people need and seek Comfort.
Maybe, also, because some of the photos are full of the beauty of Nature, its endurability, dependability. So that readers, despite their fears, and in the presence of a power greater than themselves, could feel safe, and still feel their fears.
Perhaps because the poems were elegantly formed, on geometrical pages, and we have been craving Order in this time of unknowables. Or because the poems were mainly nakedly honest.
How have the poems comforted me? For one thing, after writing them, I learned I had written something that was making other people feel better. Which made me feel better.
Plus, from my readers, I’ve been learning who I am. At first, I was shocked by the blurbs people were sending in. Everything from “A true delight!” to “Devastating.” Had I written a Rorschach test? NPR’s Hank Rosenfeld ended his review, “Rage on, Ms. Robbins!”
I had written alone, shuttered in, initial drafts unedited, and shared my feelings. And then, people were telling me I had written what they were feeling, but didn’t know how to put into words. I myself barely knew what I had been feeling. I had felt alone, and then there were people who felt “alone’ with me. I was no longer alone. People wrote they now felt a “connected.” And then I felt connected. More comfort.
I got to face and even accept so many unconscious facets of myself: “Lonely?” “Funny?” “Demoralized?” “Frustrated?” Angry? I was allowed the great, if initially unsettling gift, of seeing myself with new eyes.
Also, when I came to edit the poems, there was the comfort of feeling I could make Order out of Chaos. In restructuring the poems, there was a kind of grace, a divine illusion: that at least for a second, I controlled something, that there was, and is, in the world, a kind of Order.
Another reason I felt comforted, along with my readers: I believe that the luminous (at least to me) photos I had added to the book are beautiful, even iconic. Beauty, like so many other things, also comforts, and nourishes, and heals.
And Covid-19 is on the ballot: if the book is opening hearts and minds, as readers report, then maybe voters on the fence will understand and feel how The White House has injured us all with its handling of the Pandemic.