Centering Poetry Through COVID-19


One of the jokes I keep making in recent months (though I'm certainly not alone) is that time is meaningless. As someone fortunate enough to be able to work from home, the days bleed together with a sameness that seems unique to this time in history. Each day feels long, and each week feels short. Entire months pass with little fanfare, though we've lived lifetimes within them. It's no secret that people are struggling right now: unemployment, natural disasters, racism & police violence, mental illness, physical illness... I don't mean to abbreviate the list of tragedies that could go on for pages. When I think of what could possibly speak to all these struggles, all I come back to is poetry. 

We've seen how online poetry communities have banded together  and heard from educators who are still teaching poetry and resilience through poetry to their students. At the Poetry Center, we have become more online and more resilient, too. It is strange to think that just a few months ago, Poetry Centered, our podcast, didn't exist. Not only that, none of us knew how to make a podcast at all, and now we have six episodes -- a full season, with nearly 3,000 downloads -- with a bonus episode focusing on K-12 education coming out on October 14. We're also looking toward a second season, which will release later this year. 


Poetry Centered logo, text in an orange circular shape

To say "us" is of course to conflate the work of many: Tyler Meier, Diana Delgado, and our producer extraordinnaire, Julie Swarstad Johnson, who wrote about the behind the scenes experience of making the show. Then there's our hosts: Hanif Abdurraqib, Alison Hawthorne Deming, Ada Limón, Urayoán Noel, Maggie Smith, and TC Tolbert, all of whom spent the time poring through our audiovisual archive Voca and lent their voices to the project. 

I'm hoping to convince those of you who haven't yet listened to Poetry Centered to give it a try, even if podcasts aren't part of your daily routine. My work here at the Poetry Center is online. I'm usually the voice behind the social media posts, the press releases, the webpages. As each day bleeds into the next, I'm finding it harder to detach from the online world, harder to write, harder to read. Voca allows me to take a break from the screen to listen to poets I never would have had the opportunity to see in person and revisit my favorite moments in readings that blew me away. Lately, though, even having to make the choice about what to listen to can feel like too much.

To have poets I admire choose pieces they love, to press play and sit in stillness or fold laundry or make a craft to the sound of poetry has impacted me more than I could have guessed. Poetry Centered has become a way for me to center myself, too, and to remember the gift that poetry gives us of being held by language through our darkest times. That time spent is hardly meaningless. 

You can listen to the full first season of Poetry Centered here on our website, on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to podcasts. To learn more about subscribing, click here.