Former Kansas Poet Laureate Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg has been grappling with the concept of time for her entire life.
When Mirriam-Goldberg suddenly found her latest book — a collection of poems inspired by time and how we experience it — on hold just weeks away from press time due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she decided to add to the collection.
“We weren’t headed to press anymore and I was like, ‘Oh no, I can’t have a book come out about time and not have a section on pandemic time,’” she said. “I spent months writing poems about pandemic time. I have been grappling with time for years, and I’ll probably grapple with it the rest of my life with what does time mean? How does it move? And then pandemics, as we know, a day can be like a year long, and then three weeks are gone in a flash.”
Published by Meadowlark Press, “How Time Moves: New and Selected Poems” brings together more than 30 years of Mirriam-Goldberg’s poetry, including new poems on the nature of time as well as best-of selections from the author’s six previous poetry books.
Mirriam-Goldberg, who grew up in Brooklyn, New York and central New Jersey, always had a drawing pad when she was a child. She started writing when she a teenager. Her parents were going through a divorce.
“I suddenly needed words and I started writing,” she said. “I just kind of followed where I was led, and luckily, I had this really great mentor at my high school. She just encouraged me and let me come to the faculty lunch room — sacred territory. Every day, I’d give her a new poem. Once I started writing poetry with a little encouragement, I was hooked for life.”
Mirriam-Goldberg, who has resided in Lawrence since 1983, describes her poetry as “accessible” that speaks to the experiences of people from around Kansas. Her poetry about the pandemic, is equally accessible.
“It’s easy to feel unhinged and like we don’t know where we are in time,” she said. “At the same time, it can be a little like ‘Groundhog Day’ every day.”
She explores concepts such as what pandemic time means and how it changes.
“There’s times I can’t tell you what day of the week it is as easily as I used to be able to do, but I probably have a better sense of the starlings migrating or last week I was really noticing crows were everywhere,” Mirriam-Goldberg said. “A lot of us are paying more attention to what’s happened in the seasonal time because we’re home and looking out the windows more. For some of us, we’re a little bit less prone to be rushing around from one place to another.
“In my poetry, I found that there’s a certain kind of tenderness and intimacy that can happen when we’re dealing with something like a pandemic, sometimes I think it’s a little like if you’re in the hospital, visiting a loved one and other family and friends are there and you’re all really scared and doing your best to support this person, no matter what happens. It feels a little like that to me. We’re in a time of unprecedented danger and unpredictability, and that can kind of open our hearts and help us connect more deeply with each other and with our own selves.”