Juliana Howard of St. Joseph could well be dubbed the local “Poet Laureate of the Pandemic.”
Recently, she wrote four pandemic-themed limerick poems and decided to send them my way via email. I received them on yet another cloudy, gloomy, cold morning. Those poems dispelled the gloom; they brightened the rest of that day. Humor is a lifeline in these often-grim days of so many people isolating, suffering and dying.
I read those four poems aloud to neighbors, who enjoyed them, chuckling. I emailed them to friends; they loved them too. One relative emailed back: “So funny but so true!”
Here’s one of Howard’s limericks:
Don’t balk at this long isolation
Imposed on the whole bloody nation
No need to get dressed
No guests to impress
Pretend that you’re just on vacation.
That poem perfectly encapsulates Howard’s literary style, which often combines a kind of sly-but-gentle humor with profound insights. A typical Howard poem will make you smile, chuckle or laugh and then leave you pondering the wisdom intertwined with the humor.
Here’s another limerick:
Who knew our lives would be changed?
Our values and goals rearranged?
We dumped all our plans
And have time on our hands
To listen. Now isn’t that strange?
About six months ago, I met Juliana Howard during a telephone interview for a newspaper story after a book collection of her haiku poems was published. A haiku is brevity personified. It is a “tiny” poem of three lines only – the first comprised of five syllables, the second of seven, the third of another five.
Here’s one of Howard’s haikus:
RX for wisdom:
One per week for one full year.
Chew, swallow slowly.
Reading those poems, I was instantly impressed by her extraordinary talent for packing so much deep meaning (not to mention her playful humor) into so few words and phrases.
Howard and husband Jerry, both former teachers in their mid-80s, reside in an assisted-living apartment. Juliana taught at Sts. Peter, Paul and Michael Middle School in St. Cloud where she also served as liturgy coordinator. Besides being a long-time poet, she has also written many songs (mainly for children) and composed music for psalms, as well as writing a well-received children’s book, “Catie the Copycat.” Howard is a member of Benedictines for Peace and Justice and a volunteer at St. Benedict Monastery. In addition, she is a participant in “Cultural Bridges,” which promotes understanding among people of all races and cultures. As a periodic St. Joseph Newsleader guest columnist, she shares with readers that need for spiritual connections, everyday kindnesses and human understanding.
Here’s another Howard limerick:
Maybe in order to heal,
We needed a stick in our wheel.
Could not run around
Had to just settle down
And befriend all the feelings we feel.
And here’s yet another poem, one that had me laughing:
Until the pandemic arrived,
We thought we could barely survive
Without trips to the store
Where we bought more and more.
Now we’re naked but finally alive!
In many Howard poems, as in that one, her humor sneaks up from behind and says “Boo!” In some of her other poems, her whimsical humor does a tango, dancing tightly with serious truths.
Juliana, thank you for sharing your long-life wisdoms illuminated by those flashes of sly-and-gentle humor.