These poets are teaming up to reflect on the coronavirus crisis — in verse
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
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.