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"Nouning, March 2020"

Nouning, March 2020”

by Melisa Cahnmann-Taylor

Comments by Wei-Yi Lee


N. The process of turning verbs and adjectives into nouns, also called nominalization.


What an awesome



Said at weddings,

even funerals,


of butter,




two facing


newspaper pages.

What spreads.


We said this

for uncountable


nouns: acres,

days, contagious


smiles, laundered



for gaps

between sellers’


asks and buyers’

bids. When panic


emptied grocery

shelves, cancelled


parades, rain checked

games, invitations,


we were spread

thinner, learned how


to work from home,

returned, gloved


and masked to old



verbing so as

not to spread


too much

of ourselves




Comments Submitted by Wei-Yi Lee:

I chose the poem, “Nouning, March 2020,” because it not only recalled my memory of the approaching Covid-19 but also invoked the sense of disorientation. The author of the poem is Professor Melisa Cahnmann-Taylor, who is a UGA professor as well as an anthropological poet. I first read the poem on her Facebook page in an apartment on March 21st during the quarantine.

Because I was taking Professor Cahnmann-Taylor’s seminar in the spring, the titular date of March 20 provided me with a reference point to reflect on what happened and how I felt at that time based on our interaction in class and my memory during the quarantine. Before the spring break of March 9−13, the last class we had is on March 5. In the class, she foretold that that class might be the last face-to-face meeting because there were already two cases of Covid-19 in Atlanta. Atlanta, as she noted, is approximately two hours of car drive away from Athens, so Covid-19 was coming towards our campus. Her words came true, as can be seen in the fact that there were two weeks of class suspension after the spring break. On March 20 during class suspension, I had been thinking about what was going to be and what could be done. The titular date brought me back to the time when I had sense of disorientation at the beginning of the outbreak of Covid-19.  

Despite the deadly threat of Covid-19, the poetic strength of the poem helped me relieve any possible anxiety caused by the increasing numbers of casualties with the phrases that confounded my expectations. For example, at the beginning of the poem, the poet deliberately laid out the principle of nominalization, that is, “turning verbs and adjectives into nouns,” so I tended to see if there was any verb or noun that is nominalized in the process of reading.

The result of searching for examples of nominalization, however, contradicted my expectation. The contradiction is demonstrated by the poet’s use of “what spreads” to implicitly refer to the Covid-19. “Spread” itself can be used as a noun to indicate an increase in the number of that area that is affected by something, so the use of spreads to refer to Covid-19 cannot be seen as nominalization. Another contradiction is the use of “uncountable nouns” to refer to the countable nouns, including “acres,” “days,” “smiles,” “table cloths.” These nouns are countable nouns rather than uncountable ones, so the use confused me initially. The only example of nominalization in the poem is the noun phrase: “sellers’ asks” with “asks,” a verb, that is converted into plural nouns. These contradictory instances confounded my expectations when I read through the poem. All of a sudden, I found a parallel between the feelings of contradiction in the reading of the poem and the sense of disorientation under the spread of Covid-19. As soon as I reached such an epiphany of the parallel, any potential anxiety seemed to descend into the lines of the poem on the laptop screen. Once I comprehended how the anxiety can be compared to or conveyed through these lines, the anxiety was gone. Reading poems had a function of catharsis to me.      

            Faced with the intimidation of the pandemic, we could find a hobby, such as reading, singing, painting, or writing, to release any negative energy or emotion. Such hobbies would help us enjoy peace of mind. Only when we get peace of mind can we be mentally and spiritually prepared for the return to the campus. 

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