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Portsmouth Poet Laureate Adds Verse to City's COVID-19 Briefings

Peter Biello
Tammi Truax is the current Portsmouth Poet Laureate.

Along with regular updates about the COVID-19 pandemic, the city manager of Portsmouth has included something you don't normally find in government newsbriefs: poetry.

Portsmouth Poet Laureate Tammi Truax has been reflecting on the pandemic in verse every week since the beginning of April. She spoke with NHPR's Peter Biello.

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How did the idea for poetry during these briefings come up? Were you writing about COVID-19 anyway?

I think that I was, but only because I was in the state Poet Laureate's workshop. We were writing some COVID poems. I was just dabbling a little bit in working with her project and that was completely unrelated to this one. That was the extent of any even thinking about writing about COVID that I've been doing.

Stephanie Seacord with the city manager's office has been writing a COVID newsletter for the residents of Portsmouth and of course it was filled all the time with unpleasant announcements and requests for changing behavior and data and statistics and things like that. She knew that this was not a popular newsletter to read with such information. And she knew of me and my work, so she asked me. It was completely her idea.

What about for you? Has writing helped you get through this tough time?

Yes, I always use writing to get me through my difficulties.

Which of these poems that you've written for the newsletter is your favorite, or among your favorites?

I don't think I have a favorite. Like all writers would say, it's like picking your favorite child. But this one, "Transitions," is the most meaningful to me.

Why did you choose this one?

Writing this one was so meaningful to me. It's a very personal poem and I'll remember this one probably forever.

What kind of responses have you gotten from folks who have read your poems?

All have been remarkably positive, which is really nice. Because I've been writing for my own community, just running into a woman in the grocery store who told me that the poems help her. I've heard from a couple of people--and this is very gratifying--who told me that they've never been interested in or liked poetry, but they read these every week without fail. A lot of people tell me they look forward to them. It's a part of their week now. 

What do you think is going to come of this effort? Is it going to continue as long as the pandemic has us locked in our houses?

That is the unspoken plan. Of course, none of us know how long this is going to go on. But as long as the people are really liking having them show up in their inbox, I'll try to keep writing them.

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