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Larry Woiwode "20", "Covid 1918", "When I Rise Up"

Larry Woiwode

Larry Woiwode is North Dakota's Poet Laureate.  From his celebrated novel "Beyond the Bedroom Wall" through his publication in top national literary magazines, his prose and poetry have continually drawn appreciation and awards.

We asked him to give us the text of what he recited for this piece.  His first recitation was from a poem called "20" and here is what he sent.


So much of this poem was reduced from the actual text or added to in an improvised mode, changing entirely the poem on the page, I feel it wouldn’t be fair to reprint the poem here, and I should probably seek the permission of the publisher if I did print it. Anybody with a copy of my first book, Even Tide, who tries to follow along will see what I mean about its transformation.

The next poem, text printed, was composed during the mayhem and confused flip-flop views of the coronavirus madness, and the inspiration for its meandering wail is Allen Ginsberg’s valetudinarian composition “Howl.”

COVID, 1918

On the day I tried to drive to Elysium, the Covid crew wouldn’t go.
The road was dirt-paid lies, crooked as WHO—? What?— Close enough,
And covered, as they warned, with taunting monikers of hot hoo ho
Breath, greasy face masks, vacs needles, and gates of thorny guff.

Ditches sank between groves’a snickering false-set tamaracks and deepened
Until the backside of China drew into view, warring on religion, and fell
Like dollars from indecent pharmaceutical reels, far beyond the cheapened
Fake stars and planets aligned in Coronal planned descent to a living hell.

The road arrived at Epic Academic Plannedemic, hooked into and along
With gaited merging murder, overlaid with brief bleeping cranial depletion
Breaking down fantasies that slaughter oldsters in gasping sadistic song
As far as seas on seas and pease porridge pot of a nation’s sick secretion

Goes. Does the road end there? 3:00 am. I settle inside G. Shaw’s dream,
Lamplit, his circular table of oak a nasturtium about to break into boom, not bloom,
And shade my eyes toward Elysium, and it’s not Elysium’s morbid scheme
I see but mist from under a pickup and you, dear love, and you and you
     and you.                                                 
© Larry Woiwode, 2020

Georgia Douglas Johnson is not only an African American but an American Indian-African American. And she is not only a poet but is the first woman playwright of the Harlem Renaissance. Her poem represents the tone it would be best for each of us to take in the midst of an agonizing conflict.  Note the switch from "On" to "upon."

When I Rise Up

When I rise up above the earth,

And look down on the things that fetter me,

I beat my wings upon the air,

Or tranquil lie,

Surge after surge of potent strength

Like incense comes to me

When I rise up above the earth

And look down upon the things that fetter me.

--Georgia Douglas Johnson

[This poem is in the public domain]

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