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, a collaboration between the University of Arizona Poetry Center and Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University, invites 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 in Kent State's College of Arts and Sciences. "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, which coincides with National Poetry Month in April, makes use of the 15-minute observation period after a vaccine is administered – a window of time that is common for all vaccine recipients. When someone is vaccinated at a participating site, they will get a card describing the project and how to participate, with the option to respond by hand on the card or digitally via cell phone. Those who prefer additional time for reflection can submit their words online.
The University of Arizona vaccination site will start distributing the cards on April 5.
The project is an effort to support both large-scale vaccination efforts and personal, individual responses to the historic challenges brought on by COVID-19, which experts estimate has infected 128 million people and caused more than 2.8 million deaths worldwide.
"Our response must be equally historic and encompassing, using all of our cultural tools to support the vaccination and recovery effort," said Tyler Meier, executive director of the University of Arizona Poetry Center, housed in the College of Humanities. "By articulating our most complex and emotional experiences in imaginative language, we harness the ability to transform an individual experience into collective meaning."
Participants in the project can pick one of four simple writing prompts in response to four short model poems created by Young People's Poet Laureate Naomi Shihab Nye. The prompts, such as "Dear Vaccine" and "Vaccine, please," encourage everyone to participate, regardless of poetic experience.
Once a poem is written, those participating digitally can share their personal reflection in the project's interactive online gallery. Those who write their poems by hand will have the option to mail their card and have their response transcribed and posted online. The printed Global Vaccine Poem cards are available in English and Spanish, and the website will have bilingual options. Contributors can share 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 as 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 the number of vaccination sites increases, the online gallery of poems can be projected or displayed on large flat screens with rotating displays at the sites or in other public spaces so people can read responses by others and feel inspired to create their own. At any time, the gallery of responses is available at globalvaccinepoem.com.