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New Project Reimagines Vaccination As a Poetic Gesture

Carol Jean Nahr
Naomi Shihab Nye

A new project combines public health, the written word and sociology. It was a collaborative idea created in two separate universities, both inspired by San Antonio poet Naomi Shihab Nye.

“The poem project has been started by two masterminds at the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University, and the University of Arizona Poetry Center,” she said.

While their Global Vaccine Poem Project centers around COVID-19, this story is an uplifting one.

“It’s an encouraging project asking people to share their voices, their responses to getting the vaccine,” Nye said. “It’s like a positive boot, a cheer for the vaccine. “

The genesis for the project was a short poem Nye wrote about getting her shot.

Here is the one she subsequently wrote as an inspiration to get people to write about their shots:

“Dear Vaccine, be my friend. Send me into the world again. Open the doors. No more hiding in my room. Less loneliness. Less gloom. I think you are new wings of the world.”

Everyone suffered through the pandemic separately, but in another sense everyone endured it together. Did Nye feel that marking that fact by collective poetry could further bond that shared experience?

“It does! And I feel that so many people have been asked for their opinions — you know, how are they doing, how is their family doing — that somehow putting it into a line of poetry, your own feelings about getting the vaccine, is a big relief. It’s a collective cheer,” she said.

Nye hoped this collective sigh of relief will compel others to get the shot.

“Just by people speaking out and saying ‘hey, let’s do this!’ they can encourage others to do it too,” she said.

Poems have begun to be collected online and cards will soon be available at vaccination sites for people in line for their shots.

“There will be a little card from the Poetry Initiative saying ‘please share your thoughts with us.’ Write anything you want, just a couple of lines, how you feel about the vaccine,” Nye said.

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Jack Morgan can be reached at jack@tpr.org and on Twitter at @JackMorganii