As March arrived with the leonine claws of COVID-19, Aaron Schneider thought it was clearly time to let poetry do what it does best – offer challenge, comfort and shared experience. And if he could create a vehicle to raise money for social agencies, independent booksellers and artists, so much the better.
“When the lockdown and quarantines started, a lot of people were talking about writing something about it, because what else can you do if you’re a poet?” said the English and Writing Studies professor. “Then we talked about how we could make it count a little bit more.”
That prompted the launch of two volumes of pandemic poetry – March 2020: A COVID-19 Anthology and Is It Less Lonely Like This.
The two new chapbooks are available for download to people whose emailed requests for them include receipts for donations to charities such as Life*Spin and the London Food Bank. (Schneider notes those unable to afford to donate can still request and receive the books.)
The volumes have raised, so far, more than $4,500 for local causes.
Schneider and Amy Mitchell, MA’04 (English), PhD’08 (English), are co-editors of The /tƐmz/ Review, a London-based literary journal (tƐmz is the phonetic notation for the river Thames).
These two volumes have been the most popular offerings in the three years the journal has operated.
“I’m super-surprised at the total (donated). It’s really heartening to see. We’ve never done anything like this, a charitable venture, so we’re really pleased with how it’s turned out.”
The chapbooks are international anthologies, with contributors from across Canada, as well as Nigeria, the United Kingdom, United States and India.
Is It Less Lonely Like This is a true team project, having been published by Halifax-based Collusion Books as a collaborating press, with cover artwork by London artist Angie Quick.
It also features collaborative poetry, with each poem having been written by two or more people.
Some poems strike a hopeful tone, while others are “not necessarily uplifting,” Schneider said. An obvious motif, beyond the subject matter, is that they represent different aspects of shared experience, whether in Nigeria or Edmonton.
Schneider hopes readers will see some of their own circumstances reflected in the poems – and that they will make our isolation a little less lonely and our experiences a little less fraught. “It’s interesting to see how we share something in common in all of this, and at the same time there’s a real diversity.”