Creativity in the Time of Covid: Notes from Past Poetry Contest Winners — Part One

Our free Poetry Contest is accepting entries through March 1, 2021. We asked past Poetry Contest winners to answer either or both of these questions: How has your writing changed during the pandemic? How have you stayed creative?

Jalynn Harris won the 2019 Poetry Contest with “Phyllis Wheatley questions the quarter,” which begins,

Who head of the quarter?

Who 25 pennies add ‘em up

Who spangle the liberty of in god we founded

Who tie till the black hand

Here are Jalynn’s notes on creativity during the pandemic:

I have been writing more prose for publication and more personal poetry for myself. Fresh out of grad school during a pandemic, I had been doing freelance work which has been featured in BmoreArt and Black Archives

My poetry has been entirely for myself, though I have shared new work at virtual readings. My poetry has been very raw, unprocessed, and from the position of myself as speaker. My pandemic poems are personal and deal a lot with longing for touch, love, libraries, and random conversation — things that, by nature of the pandemic, are waaaay harder to come by. My recent work is a lot different than the Enoch Pratt piece, “Phillis Wheatley questions the quarter,” and other personae poetry featured in my chapbook “Exit Thru the Afro” — a future museum of Black queer musings in verse.  

I have stayed creative by reading across genres — Juliet Takes a Breath by Gaby Rivera; Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat; the autobiography of Assata Shakur; etc…. I have also been biking lots, swimming when I can, and creating all kinds of new *to me* vegan delights. Gotta keep my belly as inspired as my mind! 

Saundra Rose Maley won the 2016 Poetry Contest with “Charlotte Darling,” which includes the lines,

She’d crack a joke

About the guy she was seeing,

Adjust her gooseneck lamp

Put her head down and draw—

Saundra responded to our questions with this piece:

The Poem as Bridge in a Dark Time

I have found myself working more on my poems during the pandemic. I read where Shakespeare worked on three of his great tragedies during the plague of 1606 and while I am certainly no Shakespeare, I think he had the right idea. If you find you have more time to do your “work,” then do it.

Disappearing Act: Poems
by Saundra Maley

I’ve been trying to pull a manuscript together since my first and only book of poems, Disappearing Act, was published a few years ago. The “inspiration” for a new book came to me before the pandemic when by chance I picked up a small volume of Rumi translations in a bookstore. Coleman Barks, the translator, started his introduction with this sentence:

                                                I sometimes fall in love with bridges.

That was it — that sentence burst a dam in me and poems started flowing and taking me to new places. These months of “quarantine” have given me time to follow these poems wherever they lead. I don’t know where that will be, but I’m taking this pandemonic time to find out.   


Every poem is a bridge, an arcing

that closes the distance

between us

steel strands cascading

over shoulders

and breasts

spandrels of ecstasy

and ah!

bright wings