Message from the President
As we slide into autumn, our sights shift to finishing the year strong for our members and developing South Carolina Writers Association’s plans for the coming year.
We’ve continued to provide exciting and innovative programs, such as our recent session on writing diverse characters. We’ve also been working with other associations to expand our member access to programs offered beyond SCWA.
On that subject, we’re proud to announce that all SCWA members are eligible for a 10% discount on writing programs offered by our partner association The Pat Conroy Literary Center. We’re honored to be associated with such a prestigious organization and encourage our members to support the center and participate in its many outstanding writing programs.
We’re also happy to announce that our efforts to collaborate with other South Carolina writing groups have resulted in a statewide calendar sponsored by the South Carolina Humanities https://schumanities.org/calendar/. Writers now can go to one source to learn about literary arts programs, events, and activities across South Carolina. Our thanks go out to SC Humanities for making this available. (You still can find SCWA events on our website at myscwa.org/events.)
The SCWA website myscwa.org also has been updated to make it easier for SCWA members share information about their accomplishments and promote their publications on the Publications & Awards page at under the revised Member News tab. Please take advantage of this feature!
I urge you to participate in our member survey. Members have been emailed the survey, and a link can be found in the Membership section in this newsletter. Your responses will help us understand what members value most and the programs and services you’d like to see in 2022.
Finally, our guest contributor this month is a special friend of SCWA – Leigh Stein, an acclaimed novelist, poet and contributor to major newspapers and magazines. She has been a faculty member at SCWA conferences and is simply a brilliant writer.
SCWA Board of Directors
Come Write With Us!
Leigh Stein is the author of five books, including the poetry collection What to Miss When and the satirical novel Self Care. She also has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Allure, Elle, The Cut, Salon and Slate. She is a recipient of an Amy Award from Poets & Writers, and The Cut named her “poet laureate of The Bachelor.”
(Send your own submission for consideration to Laura Corbin at email@example.com.)
The Time and Place for Poetry
The last memory I have of the Before Times is going to the mall on Leap Day and watching families ride the escalators up and down, unmasked. My husband was in Chicago working a convention. I’d been following the news of a virus spreading in suburban Seattle. On the phone, I asked him if the turnout was low.
“Higher than it’s ever been,” he said.
A couple weeks later, our life in Connecticut had shrunk to the confines of our two-bedroom townhouse. There would be no more conventions for him, no more in-person teaching for me. I followed news of the virus in Italy as a forecast of things to come; we were 11 days behind them. In The New York Times, a doctor compared the worsening outbreak to starlight: “Think starlight. That light isn’t from now, it’s from however long it took to get here.” One death meant there was already widespread transmission.
That metaphor—think starlight—triggered the first poem I’d written in nearly a decade.
About two weeks before our state went into lockdown, I’d stopped drinking alcohol. The combination of my new sobriety and the intense isolation of the early phase of the pandemic sparked a period of blazing productivity. I didn’t have to cajole or bribe myself to sit at my desk and write (the way I have to when I’m writing an essay); the poems wrote themselves. They were tiny time capsules I filled every morning with the material I’d collected the day before: watching a TV newscaster catch the virus, buying scissors to cut my husband’s hair, an influencer saying the stay-at-home order doesn’t apply to people like her, people who can influence anywhere.
I was writing about class. Most of the people I knew were, like me, members of the laptop class. We could afford to work from home and spend hours a day on social media, where we expressed our outrage, our grief, our guilt. I counted what happened online as material, too. When I first got the idea to write an entire book of these poems, I was going to call it Viral Experience.
I wrote in the morning, before my husband woke up, the only time of the day I felt alone in the house, once he stopped going into an office. Each poem took between one and two hours to complete. While I wrote, I listened to the same music I listened to when I wrote poems in my bedroom as a depressed teenage girl—another isolated time, a mirror image.
I have never written for myself. I have always written for a reader—a single friend. Her name is Liz and she lives in Indiana. As soon as I finished a poem, I emailed it to Liz, or another friend. I don’t do this when I’m writing essays or fiction. I don’t finish a draft of a novel chapter and immediately paste it into an email. But a poem is the perfect size for sharing: it can be a sympathy bouquet, a five-minute stand-up routine, a loaf of bread still warm from the oven.
On March 14, 2020, Rosanne Cash tweeted, “Just a reminder that when Shakespeare quarantined because of the plague, he wrote King Lear.” Many people on the internet lost their minds over this. How could anyone write at a time like this?
But a time like this was exactly what I wanted to write about. I wanted to capture the catastrophe as it unfolded. Between March and September of last year, I wrote the poems that would become my fifth book, What to Miss When. I worried that by the time it was published, we would no longer be talking about the pandemic.
And here we are.
Think containment. Think case load. Think
of your parents. Think of Lily who taught you
the etymology of stanza—
a kind of stopping place, the room
where we self-quarantine. Think
of all the faces you’ve known by hand,
the curve of your lover’s skull, how no one
ever admits they wish they’d worried more
so you keep your panic on you at all times
like a passport. The paper reports the nameless
score, tally marks on the wall of a white stanza
where women in green speak a language
you don’t understand and decide who deserves
the breathing machine. Think starlight:
it took so long to touch us,
we trusted we were spared.