The poet and the virus

— Photo from Tom Corrado

Tom Corrado is a local poet who runs the Rensselaerville Public Library’s poetry group, which just finished celebrating Poetry Month in April by posting one poem each day. The poems were written by residents from across the region. 

RENSSELAERVILLE — On April 1, local poet Tom Corrado, of Berne, published “A Piece of Nothing,” a poem that on its face describes the experience of isolation, and the ensuing flights of fancy that provide solace in imagination. It doesn’t mention the virus, or quarantine, or any word that even suggests being alone. But it doesn’t have to. 

“I find that, when I sit down and try to put a poem together, I try not to write about the situation,” Corrado told The Enterprise this week. “But to not address it is to assume the position of an ostrich with his head in the sand.” 

If one takes art to be a chronicling of the human experience, it might be surprising that an artist is cautious to reference what is likely a generation-defining event. It’s because Corrado is looking for something deeper than circumstance, which — despite its unignorable devastations — is all the coronavirus is.

“I try to grapple with the way the mind works in the face of these things,” Corrado said, adding later, “People like linearity to try and make sense of the world. I’m saying, ‘Let’s take a step back and look at what this all means, the musicality of it.’”  

He describes his view of poetry with a pun: aural sex. 

“The sound of words and how they engage,” Corrado explained. “That’s what I’m interested in.”

Following his 2010 retirement as a professor of psychology and English at various universities, Corrado’s primary medium has been the website blogspot, where he posts his poems, most of which are variations of a single but broad theme.

“I had this idea of calling my poems ‘Screen Dumps,’” Corrado said, after describing his vision of dumping the contents of a memory bank onto an empty canvas. “I’m not interested in telling stories or sharing experiences. What I’m trying to do is capture thinking … and I thought screen dump would be a good analogy.” 

To date, his blog has received more than 90,000 pageviews and contains exactly 500 Screen Dumps. 

“An essential to the soundless / you eat the loss of the future tense / with the enigmatic typescript captioning / It’s a Wonderful Life / for those in search of closure …. / Someone somewhere is about to pull a ripcord,” reads a portion of a poem he posted in April.

In addition to his personal poetry, Corrado has involved himself in several poetry groups in the area, some of which are his own creation. 

In April, the poetry group he runs out of the Rensselaerville Public Library celebrated Poetry Month by publishing one poem each day from a wide swath of participants. 

“We’ve showcased 120 poems and 85 poets,” Corrado said of the group’s four-year run. 

Corrado said it was interesting to see how few of the poems submitted this year dealt with the virus. 

“Art, of course, provides a respite from the trials and tribulations of our lives,” Corrado summated. 

Still, poetry has not gone untouched by the virus, with the group’s twice-monthly meetings put on hold until the pandemic wanes.

“It’s dampened some of the activity,” Corrado said of the group’s reaction to the virus, “but people are trying to bridge those gaps.” 

The group has considered teleconferencing, or even congregating on Corrado’s deck, keeping six feet apart as they read their poems and welcome critiques. 

Meanwhile, everyone is of course free to write as much as they want, and perhaps even more than their time prior to the pandemic allowed.

“We had a woman who said that putting her thoughts and feelings during this time down on paper helped her feel better,” Corrado said, acknowledging the benefits of confronting situations and emotions head-on. 

And for those not interested in poetry, or who feel that art, by its popular definition, is not a priority while lives and livelihoods are endangered, Corrado offered that art is already in those people’s lives, providing comfort. 

“As far as someone saying, ‘I’m not artistic,’” Corrado said, “I don’t buy that. You just have to believe in your abilities. Anything anyone does can be considered artistic, whether it’s growing vegetables or playing music.”


More Hilltowns News

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.