What inspires you? COVID-19 Edition

We asked poet Ruth Bardon from our forthcoming issue for a take on inspiration during the coronavirus pandemic. Read her poem “Menu” here, and read more about her process and chapbook below.


It’s sometimes hard for me to figure out where poems come from, but I think “Menu” started with my suspicions about the manipulative forces at work around us, almost programming our desires. My husband and I go out to eat a lot (at least we used to), and I know that a lot of the pleasure in doing that is a product of carefully planned stimuli—lighting, decoration, and yes, the menu. It’s all a little sneaky, and though there’s something to be said for letting yourself be seduced this way, it also sets off some alarm bells.  

I think this suspicion led me back to the subject of many of my poems, which is the precariousness of our happiness and the feeling that there’s an unseen malevolent shadow underneath our daily lives, a shadow that we should be much more aware of. (This feeling seems horribly appropriate right now.) Ignorance both of invisible human forces at work and of, for lack of a better word, impending doom, combine in this poem.

I wrote “Menu” well before the crisis started. Since then I’ve found that I have been writing about the pandemic obliquely. For example, I’m working on a poem about Noah and the flood and how its victims must have been slow to realize what was happening. Mostly, writing about the pandemic just means that I feel less alone in my vision of the world as a place where we’re always close to disaster.

Demon Barber wonderfully explores ‘this consolation prize, all of it,’ by which Ruth Bardon means life, all of it, the grace notes we celebrate, the absences that make those celebrations ache. And in this extended elegy, Bardon captures—skillfully—the voices of a party still going strong as well as the plaintive calls of those who’ve left early. Here is a poet, versed in loss, who gives us vivid scenes of complex consolation, prizes to cherish.  —David Wanczyk, editor of New Ohio Review

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