Several months ago, when Darien writer Holly Russell was on the express train on the Lexington Avenue line of the New York City subway with her husband, she saw a woman with a young child asleep on the seats.

“They made a beautiful picture surrounded by subway riders like myself, enclosed in a world all their own,” said Russell. Moved, she wrote a poem based upon what she saw.

The poem, which she named “Madonna and Child on the 4 at 59th Street,” as well as a second poem she wrote called “Night Walk,” was recently published in Pendemic, an international online literary journal originally conceived in Ireland and dedicated to writers’ responses to the coronavirus pandemic.

Russell, a married mother of three, has also had other poetry published recently in a variety of avenues. Her more recent poems reflect her thoughts and concerns on current topics in the news.

Pendemic poems

Seeing the sleeping mother and child on the subway is all part of the New York City atmosphere, according to Russell.

“They were safe and New York was caring for them in its own New York way.”

To read “Madonna and Child on the 4 at 59th Street,” visit pendemic.ie/ and search Holly Russell.

Russell’s second poem in Pendemic, called “Night Walk,” is a haiku capturing the way she feels about walks she takes after dinner around her neighborhood with her oldest son Liam, who is 21. Liam is home from the University of Michigan due to the pandemic.

“The pandemic has meant a lot more people are walking. It’s a great way to get outside when the air has cooled and connect with nature, friends, and in my case, my son,” Russell said. “I wanted the poem to capture how close we felt to the sky when we were out at night — how connected — us and the stars and the trees. We’re all here on this earth, taking it night by night, day by day.”

To read “Night Walk,” visit pendemic.ie/ and search Holly Russell.

“Poems that heal and empower”

Another recently published poem by Russell is in the literary anthology “Hibiscus: poems that heal and empower” from Hawakal Publishers in India.

It’s available on Amazon.

Hibiscus put out a call for submissions and Russell’s poem was among the ones selected.

“Poets from all around the world are published in the anthology,” Russell said.

Her poem, called “Hemisphere,” is about a teacup that belonged to her late grandmother, Edith Beardall Hardcastle, with whom she had always been very close. Hardcastle, who lived in Maryland, died 17 years ago. “It’s a beautiful old Wedgewood teacup that has grooves around the edges and flowers painted at the bottom, which you can see through the tea,” Russell said.

Russell recalled all the times over the years when she would visit her grandmother overnight, and they would have a cup of tea the next morning.

“The poem is about a teacup and also about nature and how the cup is holding so much more in it than tea,” she said.

One night this winter, she was drinking hot water in the cup.

“I looked down through the water and the flowers wavered,” she said. “It made me think of flowers on a riverbank. If the river water overflows and covers the riverbank, you would see the flowers underneath.”

“This is a beauty of nature poem,” she added.

To learn more about “Hibiscus: poems that heal and empower,” search it on Amazon.

Black Lives Matter movement

Russell said she felt angry and deeply saddened by the deaths of George Floyd and other unarmed Black Americans that led to the Black Lives Matter protests this May and June.

“Racism is toxic,” she said.

An article in a news publication about the riots in Minneapolis, in which a reporter interviewed two men in a nearby neighborhood and took their photo, inspired her to write a poem called “Two men in lawn chairs.”

“What moved me about the men was their calm and their humanity,” she said.

She read the poem in June on “Poets Respond Live,” a weekly open-mic poetry reading on YouTube, sponsored by Rattle, a poetry magazine.

To hear “Two men in lawn chairs,” visit YouTube and search: Poets Respond Live | June 7, 2020.

About Russell

Russell grew up in Massachusetts and later moved to Manhattan, where she wrote on gardens, lifestyle, and design for magazines including Family Circle and Family Circle Easy Gardening, American HomeStyle & Gardening, McCall’s, Mademoiselle, YM, Woman’s World, More, American Health, New Beauty, and Celebrity Hairstyles. She has also published personal essays for the Stamford Advocate, NJ.com, and Motherwell Magazine.

Russell also volunteers as an English Language and Learning teacher at Building One Community, an immigrant opportunity center in Stamford.

Aside from poetry, Russell is also working on a novel. The novel, as yet unpublished, is a psychological thriller about the friendship between an actress shattered by 9/11 and a 19-year-old Ukrainian woman on the run from sex traffickers.

Reflections on poetry

Russell said poetry is a great outlet.

“Poetry is a place where you can write about the tiniest moment and people can relate to it,” she said.

She added that through poetry, “I can talk about stuff that it would be very hard to talk about in a general article.”

“I can put anything I want in there,” she said. “Anything sensitive or difficult, I can turn it into a poem.”

sfox@darientimes.com