From “Spring 2020”

Dangling from the mesh
of a sidewalk hockey-net,
two surgical gloves


Community garden—
a laid-off dishwasher
plants rows all morning


Neighborhood quiet
increases goldfinches’
rings and jinglings


On a balcony
a fiddler, surprised
by a distant trumpeter


Cold in the dark,
she eyes thick coats through
Army Surplus windows


Growing so weary
of herself in the mirror—
the ballerina


At long last, time
to read A Brief History
of the Universe


Wide-eyed infant
in a stroller, pushed past
a death-filled seniors’ home


The earth so spacious—
friends at a distance make
latitudes, longitudes
(found poem from a letter by H. D. Thoreau, May 22 1843)


She scrubs her skin
to be freed from
a hand-sanitizer’s smell


Shut-down gallery—
an ant marches across
a white sculpture’s ridges


In a parking lot—
calling, “Sorry, but you
dropped your mask”

Questions and Answers

What inspired or motivated you to write this poem?

A few weeks into the COVID pandemic, when Halifax was in lock-down, I often went on neighbourhood walks for fresh air, sunlight, a growing sense of spring, and a break from too much time indoors. Back in 2013 I’d published a collection of haiku-and-senryu sequences, Potato Blossom Road: Seven Montages. On the first of those walks, I had no intention of writing about the great threat to our health, but soon I found myself glimpsing (or imagining) details from the community around me, and haiku began cropping up on my walks, so I started to carry a pen and a note-pad.


What poetic techniques did you use in this poem? How much attention do you pay to form and metre?

When writing the haiku for my 2013 collection I’d developed a set of beliefs about the form and summarized them in an essay printed in that book. While embracing the common attitude that the familiar 5/7/5 pattern, derived from Japanese, makes less sense in English, I’d found many contemporary haiku too terse, skeletal and undeveloped, so while experimenting with various syllable-counts I still wanted the poetry to be rich with imagery and sound.


How did your writing process unfold around this poem? How did you write, edit, and refine it?

First drafts were handwritten on those pads of paper; then handwritten and revised in a blank-book journal; then typed up for further revisions. I enjoyed the haiku balancing act of knowing both when the three lines needed more and when enough was enough.


What did you find particularly challenging in writing this poem?

As the montage developed into about 90 haiku and senryu, I sometimes found it tricky trying to figure out what scenes and moments would have lasting impact. I hope that the poetry suggests the strangeness of that spring; but I’ve realized since completing the project that some of what seemed new and alien—such as mask-wearing—has become very familiar. What was disorienting a year ago is less so now, so the question arises, how does that change affect readings of poetry about those first months?





Brian Bartlett has published 7 collections of poems, including The Watchmaker’s Table (Goose Lane), The Afterlife of Trees (McGill-Queen’s), Granite Erratics (Ekstasis) and Wanting the Day: Selected Poems (Goose Lane), as well as 7 chapbooks and a collection of his writings on poetry, All Manner of Tackle: Living with Poetry (Palimpsest). His poems have been honoured with The Atlantic Poetry Prize, The Acorn-Plantos Award for People’s Poetry, and two Malahat Review Long Poem Prizes. He has also published two books of nature writing: Ringing Here & There: A Nature Calendar (Fitzhenry & Whiteside) and Branches Over Ripples: A Waterside Journal; (Gaspereau); a third, Daystart Songflight: A Morning Journal, will be published by Pottersfield in the fall of 2021. Bartlett’s work has recently appeared in The Dalhousie Review, The Goose, The New Quarterly, Queen’s Quarterly, and The Walrus. For The Fiddlehead‘s 75th anniversary issue last year he edited a section of memoirs by poets whose first books appeared after the age of 50. He has also edited selected volumes by several poets, including James Reaney, Dorothy Roberts and Don Domanski, and Collected Poems of Alden Nowlan. Bartlett spent his younger years in Fredericton and Montreal, and since 1990 he has lived in Halifax, where he taught Creative Writing and many fields of literature at Saint Mary’s University until his retirement three years ago.

This poem “From “Spring 2020”” originally appeared in Canadian Literature 247 (2021): 104-105.

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