As the new coronavirus spread in March, Ada Limon struggled at first to write. The American poet said she felt “flattened and silenced” by a pandemic that had shut down much of the world she knew.
“I could call nothing to me. I’d think of a sound, a word, a subject and it was all failing,” she told The Associated Press. “I would look at my own poems and think that even their subject that I was tied to, still felt distant to me.”
By April, she had found inspiration to write. What she wrote was far from a traditional poem. Instead, it was a list of what she felt was no longer within her reach.
Limon ended the poem with a cry, “I am asking you to touch me.” She named it “The End of Poetry.”
“I didn’t know what it was going to do, but it felt a great relief to list things that I could no longer access,” she said.
Limon’s poem is among more than 80 works included in a collection called “Together In a Sudden Strangeness.” The anthology will be available as an e-book on June 9 and as a hardcover book in November.
The anthology’s name comes from Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s work “Keeping Quiet.” The poem includes the lines “we would all be together/in a sudden strangeness.”
Alice Quinn is a former poetry editor with Alfred A. Knopf publishing house and New Yorker magazine. She collected works for the book.
“Poets have always been those we turn to as witnesses," she said. “Poets can crystallize a moment like this.”
Book writers will likely take months or years to fully examine the pandemic and its effects and put their thoughts into words. But the art of poetry has an immediacy to it that makes creation possible in the middle of a historical period.
At least one well-known poet, Julia Guez, is known to have the coronavirus. A poem of hers is included in the collection. It is called “If Indeed I am Ill, Brother.”
“Together in a Sudden Strangeness” also includes works from poets who are also doctors, such as Amit Majmudar’s “An American Nurse Foresees her Death.” The collection has poems about loneliness and grief, and one on becoming a parent during a time of social distancing.
The book will includes a work from Major Jackson, a prize-winning poet based in Vermont. Jackson says many poets he knows have had difficulty writing during the pandemic. He says they feel “guilty because of the anxiety they express, as if they are less of a poet.”
Jackson said he and his wife, poet Didi Jackson, told themselves they would write every day once they began sheltering in place. His poem, “Invocation,” is a call for better times and for a renewal of old times.
We want the father in the park running
behind a child pedaling into her future.
We want to turn a corner and stumble upon
the muted concert of two men in an embrace
with entangled eyes. We want to hear
a far-away train whistle cast a spell
on the coming night.
I’m Ashley Thompson.
The Associated Press reported this story. Ashley Thompson adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
pandemic - n. an occurrence in which a disease spreads very quickly and affects a large number of people over a wide area or throughout the world
inspiration - n. something that makes someone want to do something or that gives someone an idea about what to do or create
access - v. to be able to use, enter, or get near (something)
crystallize - v. to cause (something, such as an idea, belief, etc.) to become clear and fully formed
grief - n. deep sadness
anxiety - n. fear or nervousness about what might happen
pedal - v. to push the pedals of (something, such as a bicycle)
muted - adj. soft or quiet in sound : quieter than usual
concert - n. a public performance of music
spell - n. magic that is performed by saying a group of secret words