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  • NYS Writers Institute

"Together in a Sudden Strangeness"

“I am asking you to touch me...”

"Will poems be the only safe spaces where we can gather together..."

"We want the father in the park running

behind a child pedaling into her future..."

"Forgive me, my dearly departed, for crying out so often, for still needing you so damn much...."

These lines of poetry are published in a new ebook by our friends at Knopf, Together in a Sudden Strangeness: America’s Poets Respond to the Pandemic edited by Alice Quinn (June 2020).

"Poets have always been those we turn to as witnesses," Quinn said in an interview with the Associated Press. "Poets can crystallize a moment like this."

Among the featured poets, the collection includes a number of past visitors to the New York State Writers Institute, including Stephanie Burt, Billy Collins, Rigoberto Gonzalez, Eliza Griswold, Edward Hirsch, Major Jackson, Fady Joudah, Yusef Komunyakaa, Li-Young Lee, Susan Minot, Katha Pollitt and Anne Waldman. [See our Archives page for a complete list of past NYS Writers Institute guests.]

Here are the first few lines of Julia Alvarez's "How Will This Pandemic Affect Poetry?":

Will the lines be six feet apart?

Will these hexameters be heroic like Homer's?

(Will) (each) (word) (have) (to) (be) (masked) (?)

Listen to a reading of "Storm" by Kamilah Aisha Moon.

The promotional copy reads:

In this urgent outpouring of American voices, our poets speak to us as they shelter in place, addressing our collective fear, grief, and hope from eloquent and diverse individual perspectives. As the novel coronavirus and its devastating effects began to spread in the United States and around the world, Alice Quinn reached out to poets across the country to see if, and what, they were writing under quarantine. Overwhelmed by the response, the onetime New Yorker poetry editor and recent former director of the Poetry Society of America began collecting the compassionate verses that were arriving in her inbox, assembling this various, intimate, and intricate portrait of our suddenly altered reality. Whether grieving for relatives they are separated from, recovering from illness themselves, attending to suddenly complicated household tasks, or considering the bravery of medical workers and the inequities in our society that amplify sorrow and demand our engagement, our poets are just like us, but with the words to describe what can feel unspeakably difficult and strange. From fierce and resilient to wistful, darkly humorous, and emblematically reverent about the earth and the vulnerability of human beings in frightening times, the poems in this collection provide wisdom and companionship, depths of feeling that enliven our spirits, and a poignant summoning to the page of spring's inevitable return.

The collection will also be available in hardcover in November 2020.

If you'd like to learn more or purchase a copy from a number of different sellers, visit Penguin Random House at


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