It seems like everybody is writing about love, joy, death, and pain. This, of course, makes it difficult to come up with a new paradigm, though it increases the reward if one can. However, there are a lot of everyday things that though not quite on the level of these “higher” emotions, nevertheless have a profound effect on our lives. One such occurrence is the flu. Now sickness has had its share of poetic incarnations as well, and I don’t want to repeat what’s already been done, so there are several things that I want to avoid in writing a poem about the flu. One thing that I want to avoid is over-demonizing the flu, making it out to be worse than it is. A second thing that I don’t want to do is to use any kind of animal metaphor, i.e., the flu as a tiger, or the flu as a snake. Finally, I don’t want to write from the perspective of the flu. All of those directions, though I can’t place my finger on a single occurrence of any of them, feel worn to me.
Now, for me at least, the flu has been a fairly disturbing occurrence, interfering with family life, schoolwork, church activity. In short, the flu has totally disrupted my universe. That is one tack that I could take, but it falls into the first category of things that I don’t want to do, it is overblown. After all, I haven’t even had to go to the hospital or even to the doctor, and eventually I’ll recover, and forget what only seem like its devastating effects. Then, there is the scientific angle. I can’t know if that would work without some more research, but I know this much, the flu is a living virus, and it in some way attacks certain (and only certain, I think) of the body’s cells. Without falling over the edge into animal metaphor, this might offer some possibilities which could be fleshed out. What I really want to do, though, is focus on the intimate, human feelings and symptoms that accompany the flu. In other words I want to write about how one’s outlook on life is changed while under the influence of the flu, how one’s body operates differently on a macro rather than symptomatic level, how one’s relationships are affected adversely by the flu’s ravages.
I think that in keeping with the feeling of the flu, the villanelle, sestina, or other highly repetitive form might be appropriate for such a poem. Another possibility would be an original repetitive and chorused rhyme scheme. It also might be fun to play with the sounds of the flu within the poem, emphasizing and repeating nasals and gutturals and working primarily with short vowels to attempt to get across the sound of the flu in addition to its feeling. Another aspect of the flu which might influence the form is its ephemerality. You have the flue, and then it is gone, and you really do forget all about it; your life is back to 100% normal. Some type of circular motion to the poem as a whole might help to convey this. Maybe begin and end the poem in health. I’m not sure if that can be done and the depth of the change still be plumbed, nor am I sure that that is important enough of a property to take the important beginning and end of the poem, but it’s something to play with and see what can be done.