Littoral Books will release “Wait: Poems from the Pandemic” in early April.

Poet Lee Sharkey, who died in October, was the cornerstone of Maine’s poetry community. When her friend Jeri Theriault began editing a volume of poetry about the pandemic, she decided to lead the collection with a poem Sharkey wrote in her final days, “Therefore I Will Be Quiet, Comforted that I Am Dust.” It asks the questions, “What is the purpose of suffering? What did I do that I should suffer so?”

Theriault thought it was an appropriate poem to begin the anthology about a year in distress, because it informed the rest of the book. “Lee’s poem asks a question all the other poets try to answer,” she said.

The anthology, “Wait: Poems from the Pandemic,” published by Portland-based Littoral Books, will be released the first week of April. Print: A Bookstore will host a Zoom launch at 7 p.m. April 9 with readings by several poets whose work is included. The collection also includes artwork by Maine artists.

The poets and artists of “Wait” reflect on our collective and unique experiences and emotions of the past year – our worries, fears, losses, aches and hopes. “There are poems of grief in this collection, some funny poems, and a lot of poems about the day-to-day,” said Theriault.

Some poets wrote about their heightened observations of birds, their daily walks, and the regular news updates with Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah. Others wrote about a loved one dying, alone and miles away from family, about reckoning, and about “the tenacious promise of hope.” There is passion and anger on these pages – and sympathy, humor, and all the other emotions that connect people during a shared, global crisis.

Poets and artists included in “Wait” are: Kifah Abdulla, Samaa Abdurraqib, Linda Aldrich, Carol Willette Bachofner, Gretchen Berg, Katherine Hagopian Berry, Adrian Blevins, Laura Bonazzoli, Mike Bove, Marcia F. Brown, Wendy Cannella, Philip Carlsen, Robert Carr, Deborah Cummins, Jenny Doughty, Kara Douglas, Lala Drew, Kathleen Ellis, Sharif S. Elmusa, Richard Foerster, Jay Franzel, Ellen Goldsmith, Jason Grundstrom-Whitney, Myronn Hardy, Jeffrey Haste, Claire Hersom, Leonore Hildebrandt, Claudia Hughes, Annaliese Jakimides, Judy Kaber, Stan Keach, Stuart Kestenbaum, Steve Luttrell, Wesley McNair, Michelle Menting, Martha Miller, Claire Millikin, Leslie Moore, David Moreau, Jefferson Navicky, Marita O’Neill, Lucia Owen, Mihku Paul, Alice Persons, Dawn Potter, Doug Rawlings, Amy Ray, Rhea Côté Robbins, Celeste Roberge, Lee Sharkey, Betsy Sholl, Craig Sipe, Pam Burr Smith, Martin Steingesser, Meghan Sterling, Barbara Sullivan, Kevin Sweeney, Ellen M. Taylor, Jeri Theriault, Jeffrey Thomson, Elizabeth Tibbetts, Meghan Vigeant, Susan B. Webster, Douglas “Woody” Woodsum and Anna Wrobel.

“This has been a pleasure from Day 1,” said Theriault, who proposed the idea to Littoral co-founder Agnes Bushell in December and began soliciting entries. “I got immediate responses, and it felt like I was accessing the community in a deep and meaningful way,” she said. “That has been a challenge for all of us during a time, a most difficult challenge. Everything we do on Zoom stops in an hour. But this is ongoing.”

It all starts with Sharkey. Her death in October from cancer was an enormous loss for the Maine literary community, Theriault said. “She looms large in our lives, we who are poets in Maine.”

Theriault had to seek permission to include Sharkey’s poem in “Wait,” because it is part of her upcoming posthumous collection, “I Will Not Name It Except to Say,” to be published by Tupelo Press in May. Permission in hand, Theriault was grateful she could begin the book with Sharkey’s words:

This could be where we enter, who may not have expected reward but perhaps not so much suffering either

Neither believers nor disbelievers, not expecting answers yet still chafing against what has befallen

who once more need reminding of our miniscule place in the astonishing order of things

unable to stifle the hope that rises each day in our throats

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