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The Dear Vaccine in-person response collection effort at the mass vaccination site at Kent State University's Field House. Photo courtesy of Wick Poetry Center.

Resilient Ohio: Global Vaccine Poem Receives Responses From Around the World

Shot, meet stanza: An international poetry project with collaborative roots in Ohio and Arizona is collecting responses from people around the globe who are reflecting on the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine.

Called “Dear Vaccine,” this community poem was launched by the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University and the University of Arizona Poetry Center in an effort to offer 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,” according to its website.

The project, which was recently featured during one of Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s weekly COVID-19 press conferences, has received close to 1,900 individual responses from more than 88 countries and every state in the United States.

Poem participants submit their responses to one of four prompts—modeled off of a poem by the Poetry Foundation’s Young People’s Poet Laureate, Naomi Shihab Nye—on the interactive “Dear Vaccine” website, which was designed by Kent-based graphic design firm Each + Every. In-person collection events have also been held at Kent State University and the University of Arizona, where people filled out poem prompt cards during the 15-minute observation period following their vaccinations.

“Poetry tends to be a very nimble and adaptive art form to help people make meaning and create a sense of belonging around any theme or subject,” said David Hassler, executive director of the Wick Poetry Center. “And in particular, I think poetry is uniquely suited to give us solace and give shape and meaning to our grief, our frustration, and our fear.”


Video courtesy of Wick Poetry Center

The website’s gallery page showcases a scrollable list of submitted responses, all of which fill in the blanks behind prompts such as “dear vaccine,” “we liked/being able,” “it’s the…,” and “vaccine, please.”

The Global Vaccine Poem has received close to 1,900 individual responses from more than 88 countries and every state in the United States. Photo courtesy of Wick Poetry Center.“It has been exciting to see what gets chosen, how people talk about it, and what kinds of themes emerge in the responses. You do start to see some patterns in what people are thinking about and what they might gravitate toward and what this project calls forward,” said Tyler Meier, executive director of the University of Arizona Poetry Center. “The work of this project becomes this kind of container for honoring and making space for those feelings.”

The Wick Poetry Center, which receives funding support from the Ohio Arts Council, is no stranger to mobilizing the masses and encouraging people to get in touch with their inner writers. It has done so by making poetry approachable through 12 years of its Traveling Stanzas project, which infuses everyday life with pop-up poetry experiences on utility boxes and public transportation; and other community poems dedicated to healthcare workers, the Earth, and the 50th anniversary of the Kent State May 4, 1970, shootings.

The key to creating a moving community poem lies in broad public participation, as each verse is strengthened by the multitude of shared experiences and voices.

“We wanted to make a project that felt as inviting as possible to anybody and everybody who wanted to participate. And that was critical,” Meier said. “It mimics the need for the vaccine to reach as many people as possible.”

The act of coming together—albeit virtually—to create a work of collaborative imagination is itself a step toward healing, Hassler said.

“Many people have told me that they have come to our website and were given a kind of release,” he said. “To read the voices of others, from all over the world … and then sort of being ready to add one’s own voice to that growing conversation, that is a clarifying and nourishing experience for them.”

Poem participants submit responses to prompts on the interactive Dear Vaccine website. In-person collection events have also been held at Kent State University and the University of Arizona, where people filled out poem prompt cards during the 15-minute observation period following their vaccinations. Photo courtesy of Wick Poetry Center.As more people choose to get the vaccine, Meier and Hassler said they hope the poem will continue to grow and serve as a record of this particular moment in history. Hassler added that, while the project is in its response-collection stage for now, the team is considering how they can preserve the project as a digital archive or transform it into public art monuments featuring submitted poems from specific locations.

For now, however, the poem is fulfilling its mission of bringing the world together to process the past year through the connection of community.

“What the pandemic has presented us is complicated, and there is a lot of difficult work ahead as we continue to climb out of this into a thriving future,” Meier said. “I think the arts … will importantly do this work of activating the imaginative lives of everyday people. And in doing that, they equip us with the tools to challenge and to solve really vexing problems.”

Hassler agreed, adding that, just as words are being used in the “Dear Vaccine” poem to parse through the thoughts and emotions surrounding the coronavirus, creativity will help the world write a new story—“one of interdependence and collaboration,” he said.

“The arts and theatre and writing, and chorus and song … they have a way of sharing through human expression, creative expression, what needs to be tended to,” Hassler said. “Ultimately, it comes down to waking up our consciousnesses and our minds and hearts to each other and the world around us. And poetry is a wonderful vehicle for that.”

To learn more about the Global Vaccine Poem and to contribute your own response, visit globalvaccinepoem.com.

Resilient Ohio is an ongoing series highlighting the innovative solutions developed by Ohio arts organizations as they navigate the effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The impact of COVID-19 has created incredible financial obstacles for the arts across the country. According to Americans for the Arts, the negative economic impact of the coronavirus on the arts and cultural sector totals $15.2 billion across the nation—and counting. If you have a story to share about creative perseverance within Ohio’s arts community, please email it to communications@oac.ohio.gov.

ABOUT THE OHIO ARTS COUNCIL
The Ohio Arts Council is a state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically. Connect with the OAC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or visit our website at oac.ohio.gov.

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Article by Amanda Etchison, Communications Strategist
Featured Photo: The "Dear Vaccine" in-person response collection effort at the mass vaccination site at Kent State University's Field House. Photo courtesy of Wick Poetry Center.



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