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Annie Powell Stone on Writing a Poem for the First Time in 10 Years Amid the Pandemic

Annie Powell Stone (she/her) has a BA in English from the University of Maryland and an MS in urban education from the University of Pennsylvania. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Door Is a Jar, Rising Phoenix Review, and Second Chance Lit, among others. She loves peanut butter toast and summer mornings. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland, with her husband and two kiddos.

Annie Powell Stone’s poems “survival plan,” “sounds like a hospital,” and “Because We Said So” are published in Capsule Stories Second Isolation Edition. These poems examine the intersection between the COVID-19 pandemic and family life. “sounds like a hospital” dives into a specific event while “survival plan” and “Because We Said So” have a longer view. 

Capsule Stories: Can you tell us the story behind “sounds like a hospital” and why you wanted to capture this experience in a poem? 

Annie Powell Stone: I hadn’t written anything in years, but poetry came back to me as a lifeline during a very difficult time. It seems everyone’s problems were felt more acutely last year; I think that’s what makes both Capsule Stories Isolation Editions so compelling—we all feel it. 

Here was the situation for my family: my second son was born in January 2020 and needed surgery on his kidney; it wasn’t draining properly. We were caught in a bureaucratic loop where the doctors were telling us he needed to be seen—we risked kidney stones and eventual kidney failure—but categorically the procedure was classified as elective (i.e., postponed with hospitals so overwhelmed). “Semi-urgent” is the infuriatingly vague language once used. As the pandemic loomed and then hit, COVID became this thing . . . a juggernaut? A foe? Basically it was always in the way, but almost beside the point. We went into what I call “super lockdown”: we went nowhere and saw almost no one because they won’t operate on your kidney if you can’t pass a COVID test.

We finally got a surgery date in late May. A few days before the procedure, George Floyd was murdered by police. By the time we came home, the Black Lives Matter movement was sweeping the country and the internet (see my reference in the poem to “scrolling”). I came home and wrote a poem for the first time in ten years because it was all just so much, too much to hold inside any longer. That poem, originally called “By a Tiny Bedside,” became the first stanza of “sounds like a hospital.”

What was supposed to be one procedure turned into five; super lockdown continued. Each new procedure was supposed to be the one that fixed it but only brought more layers of information and at-home tasks. For example, at one point, we were sending nephrostomy bag readings to the surgeon every two hours. Oh, and the three-year-old was still not in preschool! In addition, in the way these things sometimes pile up, I also threw out my back and our home got an infestation of flour beetles. All this to say 2020 was one of the hardest, slowest years of my life. “Because We Said So” and “survival plan” came from this time. 

Note: I’m happy to say that my kiddo’s kidney finally drains! What a relief. Actually, both of my kiddos are healthy and happy, and that’s such a blessing. As a family we are now able to follow normal COVID protocols, and honestly it feels so good to be with our community again, even if it’s only outdoors sometimes or even if it’s masked. We’re just glad to be out in the world again. 🙂

Capsule Stories: In “Because We Said So,” you explore the similarities between parenting small children and writing. You write: “I thought world-creating / was a job for writers. / Turns out it’s also the task / of parents of small children.” How has parenthood influenced your writing (and vice versa)?

Annie Powell Stone: Repeatedly, parenthood has asked me to slow down and soften, things that historically are not my strengths. I’m getting better, but it’s a process. The reward is that I’m finding inside the softening is where the good stuff is, in life and in writing.

On the other hand, many of my poems are not about parenthood—or, at least not as directly as these three. With so much focus on my children (a natural and necessary part of having two little ones under the age of five) I specifically have not written any children’s poems or stories because my writing time is for me.

Capsule Stories: It’s a tiny style thing, but we’re curious about the use of three dashes (—) instead of the traditional em dashes in your poetry. When did you develop this stylistic quirk?

Annie Powell Stone: Oh haha. Yeah, I’ve been doing that since grade school. I originally wanted to have just two short dashes, but word processors autocorrect it to an em dash. However, if you put three dashes they don’t. It’s an aesthetic thing, I guess. I use dashes in my pen and ink drawings, and I like the number three (we all have favorite numbers, right?). So now it’s somewhere between a habit and a signature. It’s just outside of normal grammar, which actually has proven useful in poetry.

Capsule Stories: In “survival plan,” you consider different options of coping with the pandemic—dive into routines, sink into our bodies, disconnect/dissociate through entertainment—before landing on “let’s sit in the insanity of it all / with masks on, / tune in / and be.” How did you land on sitting and just being, among all the options? Has writing poetry helped give you space to just be?

Annie Powell Stone: When I first wrote the poem, it didn’t have the last stanza. I was in the trenches, so to speak, and writing for myself to answer the question “how are we going to get through this?” At first all I could come up with were those first three answers. They’re not long-term solutions, though, especially with small children in the house. The last stanza came later, when I eventually stopped fighting the hard circumstances and just rode the waves. Perhaps this was some form of growth or awakening, but to be honest in the moment it just felt like fatigue. 

Capsule Stories: How has your writing changed since the pandemic began?

Annie Powell Stone: You could say my process has changed a ton because it didn’t really exist before the pandemic! At least, not since before college. I’ve really enjoyed writing again; it’s been a way to find some quiet and return to myself. When I am waiting for a poem or thinking about a poem idea, that kind of quiet openness is a step closer to the person I want to be. 

Capsule Stories: What are you working on next?

Annie Powell Stone: I have a chapbook called Pissed Off Lady Sits in Nature that I’m really excited about. I occasionally add a new poem as I keep finding solace in the natural world during these troubled times. I’m currently looking for a publisher. 

I’m also in the middle of a project called #FlashPoetryForPodcasters. It’s something I came up with as an alternative to a 100-day challenge. Basically, it’s a combination of two things I like to do, listen to podcasts and write poetry, but instead of just talking to one or two friends about something I heard or posting about how much I liked an episode, I’m using flash poetry to digest and respond to ideas presented and hopefully further the conversation. Some of my favorite podcasts are Needy by Mara Glatzel, We Can Do Hard Things by Glennon Doyle, and Unlocking Us by Brené Brown. But I also have written in response to a pretty broad range, including Gardeners’ Question Time from the BBC.

You can follow Annie Powell Stone on Instagram at @anniepowellstone where she posts flash poems about daily life and podcasts, in addition to providing updates about where she’s been published. You can find her online portfolio here.

 Annie Powell Stone
Annie Powell Stone

Read Annie Powell Stone’s poems in Capsule Stories Second Isolation Edition, available in ebook for $0.99 and in paperback.

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