Can the COVID-19 experience be summed up in 17 syllables? Guelph-based poet Michael Schepers certainly thinks so, and he’s got plenty of examples to prove it. A collection of some 120 haiku he penned is now available in a new book, appropriately titled ‘Still Locked Down.’
“Over the course of the pandemic, there ended up being quite a few haiku that were basically just observations – objective observations as opposed to opinion pieces or drawing conclusions on why it happened. As they started building, they became quite neat, interesting reads,” said Schepers of his collected reflections on the crisis and our responses to it.
Each of the poems aims to follow the traditional haiku format of 17 syllables over three lines in the 5-7-5 structure: The first line is five syllables, the second line is seven syllables, and the third is five.
Each is part of Schepers’ attempt to journalize this moment in our history, as we look at issues more closely than we normally would given the pandemic, lockdowns and the additional time we have for stillness, he notes.
The poems are his observations and reflections on society and the events that have essentially left us in limbo for the past year, creating a multitude of issues from loss of business to isolation and public health adjustments such as keeping the six-feet rule at the top of your mind.
Schepers said his interest in poetry, specifically haiku writing, stems from his quest to analyze situations.
“I think a lot of getting to the place of haiku’s morphing, just a slow [process] – I like to distill things down. I like metaphors. It was actually my brother that got me [into it] and, from there, writing poetry. I ended up just kind of leaning towards the haiku, or, I would say, that style of poem where there’s an image and then some opposing images alongside of it,” he explained.
“Sometimes, as a poet, I feel I have something to say. I proposed to share them as I went, but more so with my kids and grandkids,” he said of the poems he’s written during the pandemic. “It’s not a book that you would call epic – I think there might even be some arguments in the haiku community if all of them are haikus – but I find, honestly, it’s a very neat little book. If they’re allowed in doctors’ offices, when you’re sitting down you can start and finish wherever – you can open in the middle and it’s got some [observations].
“It also gets you to thinking on your own. Haiku never really is about drawing conclusions – there’s a little bit of cryptic to it. It’s elusive. Sometimes it’s only ‘til the second or third read that you get it.”
Still Locked Down, which features artwork from Schepers’ wife, Sandra, is available for purchase in ebook format online through the likes of Amazon.
For those that purchase a hard copy, Schepers invites them to write in the margins adding their own observations or creating their own lines to add emphasizing on the importance of holding onto a physical copy in the day and age of online readers.