Amidst the last days of the semester’s end that blended startlingly fast into summer, I found myself increasingly surrounded by more empty space than I knew what to do with. My professors and classmates seemed to linger at the end of our final Zoom classes, reluctant to go. My friends came to the slow and somewhat jarring realization that they were no longer first-years, or sophomores, or juniors. Time seemed to fold into itself unceasingly, as if sneaking up and running past us all at the same time, and I might have lost track of what day it was entirely if it weren’t for my remaining deadlines.
In all of this space, I was simultaneously busy and looking for things to do to make up for the sense of a rapidly-ending sophomore year. So, I was very hyped when my friend Kinsale (who’s also in the same poetry group as me on campus!) asked me to co-host a Zoom poetry workshop with her, about any topic! I’m fairly sure my texted response was something along the lines of “yeeeeehaw! yes of course!” The workshop was part of a longer series of poetry workshops she would be teaching with friends from Yale and beyond — essentially they were lowkey, informal hour-ish long sessions of writing to a group prompt together. Poetry? Being able to talk to and make eye contact with real, human people? Something to give me a sense of purpose amidst a developing habit of binge watching cooking shows on Netflix? I was ready.
The posters for the poetry workshops! With bios and a picture that makes me seem impressive and pensive! And maybe a little brooding too, but in a tasteful, poetic way. You know?
I focused my workshop prompt on stillness and empty space — thinking about ways to repurpose all the empty time and seeming nothingness into something motivating and generative. As much as Yale was (literally) a place to learn, I’d also found opportunities to teach (poetry) as well — which has been both nervewracking and exciting. And once I got over the irrational anxiety of one of the attendees standing up and yelling “fraud!” over Zoom, the workshop was just that. I found myself writing about all the scattered pieces of New Haven that I’d been missing: coffee runs, tropical smoothies, listening to music in a friend’s common room, dancing to Blinding Lights on the sidewalk. The prompt called for a poem written in two parts, with the second part begun with words that had been erased from the first part and moved down.
“In New Haven, I built my home from people, and they made a city into more than just a place to live.”
And, for an hour and a half, with old friends and Yalies I didn’t know and people from high schools and colleges across the country, all of us clustered in a pixelated grid, I reopened a window into all the most important and memorable parts of the previous months. Although I’d been stewing in quarantine thinking about all that I’d left behind, I could still create and foster spaces that brought me closer to the pieces of Yale that had imprinted themselves on me, still make my own writing resources and opportunities and moments of impromptu joy with my friends in spite of all the empty space between us. All of that seemed obvious, of course, but felt unnoticed until then. Teaching workshops and writing poems about our on-campus antics and leaving silly, delightfully obnoxious comments under each other’s Instagram posts wasn’t enough to replicate what we missed. But, in recreating and expanding outside of our Yale-lives, it was comforting enough — to make something together again, to share little bits of the worlds we were missing, and piece them together to fill some of the emptiness of an afternoon in isolation.