What would you say to the COVID-19 vaccine?
Would you summarize your experience during the pandemic? Would you focus on your hopes for the future?
The Global Vaccine Poem project is a collaboration between the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University, housed in the College of Arts and Sciences, and The University of Arizona Poetry Center, housed in the College of Humanities. It offers an inclusive and participatory opportunity during the universal vaccination experience, inviting all to share their voices and promote COVID-19 vaccination through the imaginative language of poetry.
“We know that poetry is a powerful tool to connect us across division, to remind us of both of our individuality and our shared humanity,” said David Hassler, Director of the Wick Poetry Center. “The Global Vaccine poem will use creative healing through poetry to encourage all people to reflect on both the pandemic and their vaccination, and to imagine a safe and thriving future.”
The project, coinciding with National Poetry Month, is an effort to support both the large-scale vaccination efforts and the personal, individual responses to the historic and encompassing challenges brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, which experts estimate has infected 122 million people and caused more than 2.6 million deaths worldwide, as of March 19, 2021.
“Our response must be equally historic and encompassing, using all of our cultural tools to support the vaccination and recovery effort,” Tyler Meier, Executive Director of the University of Arizona Poetry Center. “By articulating our most complex and emotional experiences in imaginative language, we harness the ability to transform an individual experience into collective meaning.”
The project makes use of the 15-minute observation period after a vaccine is administered, a window of time that will be common for all vaccine recipients. Once a vaccine is administered, partner sites will distribute a card describing the project and how to participate, with the choice to respond by hand on the card itself or by using a phone to create a digital response. Those who prefer additional time for reflection can submit their words online.
Building off of the Wick Poetry Center’s innovative online expressive writing tools, participants will then pick one of four different, simple writing prompts in response to four short model poems created by Young People’s Poet Laureate Naomi Shihab Nye. The prompts, like “Dear Vaccine” and “Vaccine, please,” encourage everyone to participate, regardless of poetic experience.
Once complete, those participating digitally will seamlessly share their personal reflection on the project’s interactive website gallery, creating a collective, community response. Those participating by hand will have the option to mail their card and have their response transcribed and included. Global Vaccine Poem cards to be distributed at vaccination sites are printed in English and Spanish and the website will have bilingual options. Contributors can share their poems in any language.
“We hope that the public will join us, in the university and Tucson communities and beyond, in this opportunity to articulate their feelings about the past year and what’s to come,” said Alain-Philippe Durand, Dean of the College of Humanities. “Just we turned to the humanities during the pandemic for guidance, comfort, answers, inspiration, lessons, hope, determination, clarity and ways to process grief and the impact of isolation, we seek greater connection in the human experience of recovery.”
As vaccine sites increase, the ever-expanding online gallery of responses can be projected or displayed on large flat screens with rotating displays both at the vaccine site and in public spaces, to allow people to read the responses by others and feel inspired to create their own. At any time, the gallery of responses will be available to all at www.globalvaccinepoem.com.