While the past two years have had their dark stretches, local poet Janelle Cordero has found solace in the extra time at home. An introvert through and through, she has continued to thrive creatively during the pandemic. Her latest poetry collection, “Impossible Years,” is the result.
“Spending a lot of time inside my brain, all of this forced time at home, sitting with my thoughts – it’s been really good,” Cordero said. “It’s helping us prioritize.
“People are shifting careers, spending more time on their art or their writing because they actually have the time to do it now. I wouldn’t call COVID a blessing, but with the societal shift it’s caused … we’re realizing our life is fragile, and we need to be doing the things that are most important to us.
Cordero studied English at Whitworth and went on to earn a master’s from Pacific University. Now an instructor at Spokane Community College, she teaches English composition and creative writing.
Her own studies continue through constant reading and daily journaling, be it jotting a few lines, an entire poem or a piece of “flash fiction.”
“One day,” she said, “I may be able to get rid of some of my old journals.”
But not just yet.
“It feels almost sacrilegious to just throw them away, but at the same time, I don’t want to store them in my closet forever.”
Cordero’s work – first in “Two Cups of Tomatoes,” a collection of coming-of-age pieces, and “Woke to Birds,” a formally experimental journey into faith, spirit and mortality – reaches a new stage in “Impossible Years.”
“I’m moving more in like a narrative direction,” she said, referencing Ray Carver, one of her literary heroes. “A lot of his poems are like that, too – these little stories about really mundane, gritty things that happen in life.”
Dedicated to her grandfather after his death early last year, “Impossible Years” moves from childhood nostalgia and on through more recent memories.
“I feel like I’m finally far enough away … to hold my childhood up for measure,” she said. “I can say, ‘OK, there were some parts that were really magical, and there were some parts that were really painful.’ ”
From growing up in Colville, the same town where five generations of her family have lived, and navigating that legacy, to coming to terms with loss, the collection leans toward the concrete where her previous works were abstract.
Many of the poems are inspired by her grandfather’s life.
“I’ve lost family members, I’ve lost people, but (he) was truly one of my best friends,” she said. “This legend in my life – a huge mentor and spiritual guide. So losing him, navigating my grief – he was in hospice, and it was during COVID – that was really hard.”
After sitting with her grandfather during his last days, Cordero started writing, not only about death but also the process of dying.
“I didn’t want it to just be such a focus on my personal grief,” she said. “I wanted it to be something that others could relate to and find accessible, as well.
“Grief is something that we all experience and we all can connect with.”
“Impossible Years” is available at Auntie’s Bookstore and Wishing Tree Books.