Pandemic Emails Provide Surprising Inspiration For W.Va. Poet

May 1, 2020

Credit Courtesy Jessica Salfia

At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Jessica Salfia began receiving emails from companies she had interacted with over the years. Most said the similar things, like how they “cared about their customers” and were “looking after their employees.” 

Instead of just deleting those emails, Salfia, who is a creative writing teacher from Martinsburg, W.Va., saw the makings of a poem.

Salfia said she encourages her students to keep a “writer’s notebook,” an informal writing journal to record things for writing about later. 

So a few weeks ago as Salfia was reading the marketing emails, instead of deleting them she pulled out her writer’s notebook. 

“The language was very intense. Everyone was trying really hard to sound sincere. And I kept seeing these same phrases pop up over and over again,” she said. 

Some of the phrases included “In these uncertain times,” “As you know, many people are struggling” and “We hope this finds you and your family safe.”

“It all started to sound very lyrical to me,” she said. 

As the pandemic moved on, she also noted a change in the language. She said it moved from true sincerity to marketing veiled as sincerity -- she recorded those phrases, too. 

Finally, Salfia used the first lines from many of those marketing emails to write a poem and it went viral on Twitter. As of  May 1, it had more than 46,000 shares and 169,000 likes. 

Credit Courtesy Jessica Salfia

Salfia said she thinks the reason her poem has resonated with people is that those emails are something that many of us have received. She added that she has gotten emails and comments from people who think the poem is hilarious and others have thought it was moving, sad and poignant.

“I teach a unit on ‘Art as Argument’ to my Advanced Placement Language and Composition students. We focus mostly on visual art and we talk a lot about how art is subjective. And that audience really plays a role in how art is interpreted and that's the goal of good art,” she said. 

“People can bring to it the thing that they need to bring to it. Or take away from it the thing that they need to take away from it and so the reactions to it have been really diverse.”

The First Lines of Emails I've Received While Quarantining 

By Jessica Salfia

In these uncertain times 

as we navigate the new normal, 

Are you willing to share your ideas and solutions? 

As you know, many people are struggling. 

I know you're up against it: 

the digital landscape. 

We share your concerns. 

As you know, many people are struggling. 

We hope this note finds you and your family safe. 

We've never seen anything like this before. 

Here are 25 Distance Learning Tips!

As you know, many people are struggling. 

Feeling Fiesta today? Happy Taco Tuesday!

Calories don't count during a pandemic. 

Grocers report flour shortages as more people are baking than ever!

As you know, many people are struggling. 

Count your blessings. Share your blessings. 

Get free curb-side pickup or shipped to your house!

Chicken! Lemon! Artichokes!

As you know, many people are struggling. 

How are you inspiring greatness today? 

We have a cure for your cabin fever. 

Pandemic dial-in town hall TONIGHT!

As you know, many people are struggling. 

Mother's Day looks a little different this year.

You're invited to shop all jeans for 50% off. 

Yes, buy 1, get 1free!

As you know many people are struggling. 

Call us to discuss a loan extension without penalty. 

ACT NOW: Tell Congress Charters should Not Line their Pockets During the COVID crisis. 

Now shipping face masks as recommended by the CDC. 

As you know many people are struggling. 

This is not normal.