Today I bring you a guest post from the wonderful Matt Nagin who has published his third poetry collection. In March of 2020, Matt came down with coronavirus and wrote these poems during the five weeks he was trying to recover. They cover a range of subjects, although the overarching theme is the dystopian suffering unleashed by this global pandemic. The hope is that a few notes can be salvaged from all the wreckage, the chaos and destruction, that can make all we’ve endured more tolerable. A portion of all proceeds from book sales will be donated to Doctors Without Borders. You can buy your copy of the book here.
How Writing The Book “Notes From The Bonfire” Helped Me Recover From Covid-19
At this point no one wants to talk about the pandemic. Mention the 400,000 dead at some Zoom party—I’d say dinner party but those rarely happen anymore—and you get a lot of fellow Zoomers checking out. This makes sense. The losses we’ve suffered in America, and, really, across the globe, have been incalculable.
Plus, there is rarely anything interesting to say. It’s unpleasant to bring up the new covid variants or discuss how they might be resistant to vaccines. Nor do friends enjoy discussing the spiraling U.S. National Debt, the unemployed waiting on food lines, the relatives and friends now gone.
But maybe unpleasantness is necessary. Maybe the uncomfortableness is something to consider making a part of our daily reality like going to the gym or eating oatmeal. This is somewhat akin to Heidegger’s concept of being-towards-death. Now, I’m no philosophy major, but it seems to me what Heidegger was saying was that by confronting our own mortality we can make the present more valuable. Live with an awareness of your mortality can’t help but make your existence more authentic. It’s a similar theory behind psychoanalysis. Don’t hide from our monsters. Bring them into the light and they may no longer haunt us in quite the same way. Liberation requires an in-depth exploration of personal uncomfortableness.
This sort of thinking, anyway, was what propelled me to put together my latest poetry book, “Notes. From The Bonfire.” In March of 2020, I was not only living in New York City, the first U.S. epicenter, but came down with a rough case of Covid-19. Holed up in my parents’ house, trying to recover, a process that took at least five weeks, and, at one point, landed me in the E.R., I distracted myself from the doom and gloom by writing poetry.
But, more than that, I confronted my own illness and the pandemic as a whole. At the time, there was a great deal of fear out there; no one knew precisely how deadly this virus was. This was only compounded by my numerous symptoms that were not going away.
I guess, writing the poetry, too, then, exposed the virus, in a way, made it tangible, so it didn’t quite have such a mythical power over me. This monster was suddenly something I could confront through words, something I could face directly. And, maybe, too, like Heidegger suggests, writing these poems was a way of being-towards-death (okay, thankfully, in my case, it ended up more a being-towards-severe-illness).
Normally, with poetry, I stay away from politics. This time was different though. While not bombastic or anything, I did mention, in at least a few poems, such as “The Dead,” my shock at how human life wasn’t made more of a priority on a national level. It seemed people were not taking basic health measures like masks and social distancing seriously enough.
Having suffered through this virus myself, I knew how bad it could get. The fact that this message wasn’t getting across overwhelmed me with a feeling of helplessness. I wanted others to know how badly this virus can hit you and how it can change your thinking and really wreak havoc on your health. Finally, I wanted to offer a bit of hope, some positivity, at a very trying moment.
Anyway, this all sounds a bit lofty. Basically, I was just eating my eggs and toast each morning, and then, when I could, scribbling a few poems. At the end of the five weeks I had a book of work, and, after editing the poems a bit, determined that I wanted to publish it. I solicited illustrations and photos from other creatives and put together “Notes From The Bonfire,” my third poetry book, which, among other things, is a record of my feelings and thoughts at this overwhelming, insane time. I hope it is relatable to others. I hope, perhaps, even, it might help others process what we all went through. Certainly, writing it helped me (poetry is way cheaper than paying 175$ an hour to my shrink). 50% of the proceeds go to Doctors Without Borders. I hope you can check it out. Most of all, I hope, after reading this, you will be more inclined to discuss the pandemic openly, since sometimes we really do need to confront hardships in order to move past them.