Shoreline Press (2022), 70 pp., $14.95 (paper). Available here.
In her poetry collection about the Covid epidemic, Chaos Theories of Goodness, Tanya Bellehumeur-Allatt remarks that if you’d predicted during the cheerful New Year’s celebration of 2020, what actually was about to happen, she would never have believed it, let alone imagined it. But it did, and so now, with her wings and ours too, clipped, she shows how the use of imagination gave her a path through the ordeal. Stuck unexpectedly at home, she dealt with her cabin fever and concern by writing a daily poem.
Chaos Theories is a series of poetic commentaries about her – and our – life while flapping dispiritedly within the cage of Covid 19. She discusses the details, both inner and outer, of suffering enforced domesticity.
There’s no shrill outrage or bellyaching here, just her sincere, quietly earnest voice expressing real anxiety at this contemporary plague. In her poem “Passover Prayer,” she writes: “May the angel of Death/on its gruesome flight/over nation, province, village/pass over us.”
Like all of us, she deeply longs for the bug to be gone, when she’ll happily join the rest of us with “the whistles, warbles and shouts/of our communal cheer.” But she also recommends a little proportion. In the poem “Plague,” she describes a huge East African cloud of locusts blocking daylight, so voracious they’ll “eat the tongue/right out of your mouth.” While in another piece, aptly titled “Perspective,” she tells how monstrous African floods have displaced and left thousands destitute.
So, count your blessings.
She proposes that one way to do this, when your secure routines are swept away, is first to accept and even ratify the change, as in “Looking at Caravaggio’s Entombment”: “You are right where you belong.” Then, to seek nourishment in and note the small, meaningful things, which she describes in “My List of Small Things.” Also, she reminds us that mass dislocations – particularly epidemics – while painful at first and isolating, have paradoxically permitted the time for learning and great bursts of creativity in the arts and other fields.
Bellehumeur-Allatt writes: “I sign us up for lessons online:/ … We will emerge from our quarantine like Shakespeare/ And Newton, with theories and plays and solutions.”
The poet is not into unchecked moaning and groaning! She seeks out the constructive side of our current tribulation. Also, the funny one. Her fine sense of humour shows in “Dishevelment: A Sonnet,” where she laments how with the hairdressers shut due to the lockdown, our hair, grown out and self-styled by our own amateurish hands, is such a sight, the only solution is to “turn our mirrors to the wall.” Elsewhere, she prophesies mischievously that, after the epidemic, there will be a similar outcome as that which followed the Great Northeast Blackout – plenty of babies!
Bellehumeur-Allatt’s poems are serious but also, when life urgently requires it, comic and even light-hearted. Moving, intelligent, always accessible, they eloquently speak to and for us in this abnormal and surprising time.
Steve Luxton lives in Hatley, Quebec, and is currently Writer in Residence at the Lennoxville Library. This article originally appeared in The Townships Sun (Vol. 49 No. 5 February 2022) p. 17.
Note: You can read a whole collection of Covid pieces on Quick Brown Fox, including two poems from Tanya and even a piece by me. Just click here and scroll down. ~Brian
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