Door County Writes: Writing through This Holiday Season 2020

Nonfiction by Albert DeGenova

So, this is the 2020 holiday season in the year of COVID-19. The season of sentimentality. I’ve been fumbling and stumbling for too long now, day to day, under a fog of sadness and fear … exhausted (2020 has been a rough year). 

But then, reading in my favorite chair next to the Christmas tree with Vince Guaraldi on the stereo playing “Christmas Time Is Here” (how much more cliché could I get?), I felt the welling up, the lump in my throat, and the fog began to lift. I began to jot notes for poems in the back of the book I was reading. I began to hear words in the music, music in the words. 

A poem begins with a lump in the throat; a homesickness or a love sickness. It is a reaching-out toward expression; an effort to find fulfillment. A complete poem is one where an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words. — Poet Robert Frost

I say, let the schmaltz run free! And what better time than at the holidays, with so much emotion tied to memories, happiness and sadness, love that is with us and love that is gone. So many ways to wrench our hearts … to break them wide open, especially this year, with many family gatherings mere shadows of previous tradition.

We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet

For days of auld lang syne

And I believe for writers (artists of any ilk, actually), we cannot be afraid of the sentimentality within us, cannot be afraid to remember, cannot be afraid to feel. All of our stories are born out of memory.

There are periods when COVID-19, work stress and the demands of day-to-day living can numb the poetry out of my brain, can put me into an unbreakable shell. So, when pictures of holidays past or some sappy romantic Christmas movie bring a tear to my eye, I know I can still feel.

And that is the time to write, when the crack has been made in the hard shell of living. Take advantage of the moment; seize those powerful emotions. Even if they were provoked, aroused, teased by romanticism or manipulated by formulaic theater … those are still real emotions triggered by the part in us that has no connection to rationality.

The skill is in being able to craft and shape away the cliché and the trite. That is the making of art. Without the emotion, there is no art. 

Poetry is best when it is something you just gotta get off your chest … I personally only write when I absolutely have to – when it gets so it hurts too much if I don’t. — Poet Kenneth Rexroth

Let us all enjoy a safe and healthy new year, drink it in to the last sweet and sappy drop, and when you can’t take it anymore, write!

DeGenova is an award-winning poet, publisher and teacher. He is the author of four books of poetry and two chapbooks, and the founder and editor of After Hours, a journal of Chicago writing and art launched in June of 2000. He splits his time between metro Chicago and Sturgeon Bay.

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