Hope Springs Through Verse: Global Vaccine Poem Has Grown to More Than 1,700 Stanzas Worldwide, Gains Attention of Ohio Governor

World responds when Kent State and University of Arizona poetry centers ask others to share their hope of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The Global Vaccine Poem, launched in early April by Kent State University’s Wick Poetry Center and the University of Arizona’s Poetry Center, has grown to more than 1,700 stanzas submitted by people in all 50 states and 89 countries. 

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, at his May 17 news briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic, shared a video about the project to encourage all Ohioans to submit a stanza.

April, which is designated as National Poetry Month, was chosen as the month for the project’s kickoff.

“We are so excited to have the governor give this attention to our project,” said David Hassler, director of the Wick Poetry Center. “This wraps up National Poetry Month for us in a big way.”

DeWine introduced the video at his news conference by noting that the vaccine is bringing hope.

“Kent State University is part of a project called the Global Vaccine Poem Project that is helping Ohioans and others across the world express feelings about what the vaccine represents to them,” he said.  “And while the thoughts and words each person contributes are unique, it’s a project that is uniting people, healing, and is spreading hope.”  

The project’s main purpose is to promote COVID-19 vaccination through the imaginative language of poetry, Hassler said.

The two poetry centers agreed to collaborate on the project, to provide the world an inclusive and participatory opportunity to share their feelings and voices during the universal vaccination experience.

The premise of the project is simple: 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?  

 “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,” Hassler said. “The Global Vaccine poem uses creative healing through poetry to encourage all people to re¬flect on both the pandemic and their vaccination, and to imagine a safe and thriving future.”

Since its launch one month ago, the effort has gained national media attention and submissions from all over the world, from people who have visited the poem project’s website to share feelings of the hope that the vaccine brings.

One of the first to submit a stanza for the poem was Kent State President Todd Diacon, who offered this verse: “The short, sharp pain—a welcomed feeling after a year of dull ache. Memories of a sugar cube soaked with medicine.”

WKSU used the project to create a weekly audio series beginning during National Poetry Month and continuing through May, where listeners can hear others recite their stanzas. 

Since the project’s launch, Hassler and other Wick staff and volunteers have been a steady fixture at local centers where COVID-19 vaccines are being administered, including the Kent State Field House, where every Tuesday this spring the Portage County Combined General Health District hosted large-scale vaccine clinics.

They pass out postcards, asking those vaccinated to either write a stanza or message on the card and return it to Wick, or to go online to submit a stanza.  

On a recent Tuesday in April, Kent resident Tanya Salopek emerged from the field house after receiving her first vaccine said she was excited to participate in the project.

“It’s pretty wonderful for people to get their shots and everybody will be, hopefully, able to see family again,” Salopek said.

Recently, Hassler was given permission to pass out the cards at the Wolstein Center at Cleveland State University, which is one of the state’s designated mass vaccination sites, enabling him to reach an even greater number of Ohioans.

The project is an effort to support both the worldwide vaccination effort and to chronicle personal, individual responses to the historic and encompassing challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our response must be equally historic and encompassing, using all of our cultural tools to support the vaccination and recovery effort,” Hassler said. “By articulating our most complex and emotional experiences into the language of personal reflection, we harness the ability to transform an individual experience into collective meaning.” 

Visit the Global Vaccine Poem and Kent State’s Wick Poetry Center for more information. 

POSTED: Monday, May 17, 2021 12:37 PM
UPDATED: Friday, December 09, 2022 03:00 PM
Lisa Abraham