Together in Sudden Strangeness
Credit: Knopf Doubleday

When COVID-19 began to wreak havoc across the world, poet Alice Quinn had an idea. As the longtime poetry editor at The New Yorker and executive director of the Poetry Society of America, she decided to use her connections to turn society's pain into art. Quinn began gathering the quarantine writings of her peers across the country, and the result is Together in a Sudden Strangeness, a collection of poems touching on subjects from the plight of first responders to the unique loneliness of worldwide isolation.

To celebrate the anthology's publication, Quinn will host a virtual reading with seven of the collected poets (Joshua Bennett, Billy Collins, Cornelius Eady, Deb Garrison, Ada Limón, Amit Majmudar, and Kamilah Aisha Moon) for Washington, D.C. bookstore Politics & Prose tonight at 7 p.m. ET (register here).

Below, you can read two poems excerpted from Together in a Sudden Strangeness.

"Dad Poem" by Joshua Bennett

No visitors allowed

is what the masked woman behind

the desk says only seconds

after me and your mother

arrive for the ultrasound. But I’m the father,

I explain, like it means something

defensible. She looks at me as if

I’ve just confessed to being a minotaur

in human disguise. Repeats the line. Caught

in the space between astonishment

& rage, we hold hands a minute

or so more, imagining you a final time

before our rushed goodbye,

your mother vanishing

down the corridor

to call forth a veiled vision

of you through glowing white

machines. One she will bring

to me later on, printed and slight

-ly wrinkled at its edges,

this secondhand sight

of you almost unbearable

both for its beauty and

necessary deferral.

What can I be to you now,

smallest one, across the expanse

of category & world catastrophe,

what love persists

in a time without touch

"Leaving Evanston" by Deborah Garrison

She left the bed made

Though it rarely was.

It was where she studied,

Talked to home, and where she’d

Loved a couple of boys.

No, it was just one

She’d actually loved.

She’d heard he wasn’t going

Home, imagined him shacked up

With the new girl, with canned goods,

Condoms, and red wine.

She might never see him again.

No, that was too dramatic of her.

She’d see him—in New York, L.A.,

D.C., or Louisville, some city

Where theatre majors went

To repot themselves, like new plants

With not quite enough soil to grow

Roots. She remembered now

The morning she’d been late to warm-ups

And her professor said a sharp

Word—her mentor, she could use

That term since it was over—and she sobbed

In the bathroom. She remembered

Her homesickness and then a spring

Day, the lake offering its broad face to them all

As they shed jackets and recognized

Their friends arriving as at a grand

Outdoor wedding, their sophomoric

Marriage to this place.

This coming Monday

Would have been their showcase,

She was meant to do Anne Frank’s

Scene in the attic with Peter.


She considered the fridge

And threw out her favorite pesto,

The portions of salmon she’d

Frozen. She felt suddenly old,

In the posture of her mother,

Peering in and assessing,

Tossing and wiping with good-smelling

Spray her mother had in fact

Bought her in September.

Would she become a practical

Person? She still didn’t keep

A calendar but she knew the dates:

Their play was meant to go up

The first weekend in June,

Commencement to have been

The nineteenth. Was it just last Friday

They were laughing in the rehearsal room

And then crying because of the tender

Monologue she’d written for her friend,

Who already had her union card, and was

Playing a female astronomer who’d lost

Her mother to cancer . . . who, a hundred years ago,

Was measuring the distance to the stars . . .

She knew there were other griefs.

Generations of them.

This one was theirs.

She shut the lights and locked

The door. She had the video

On her phone and would

Show it to her parents.

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