You are here

In The Beginning Of Covid-19

We have teamed up with artist and publisher Jason Dodge to bring you a brand new series of poems in response to Covid-19, written by some of America’s most exciting contemporary poets. At this time, perhaps more than ever, there is a need for collaboration in the arts, and this project joins up the National Poetry Library in London with Berlin (where Dodge lives) and the poets of the United States. There is a long and fruitful history of transatlantic collaboration in modern poetry which goes back to American modernists such as Ezra Pound, H.D. and TS Eliot, and this project continues that tradition. More than anything, we wanted to showcase the work of poets who are creating in response to the crisis: ‘I wake up in the morning’, Matthew Dickman writes, ‘And think / people are alive.’

The twelve poems in the series show what poetry can do in a crisis, bringing chaos into focus through ‘luminous details’ (to quote Pound). The poems have all been written since lockdown, and explore themes ranging from our relationship with food (Michael Dickman), time (Eileen Myles and Donika Kelly), to parenting in a time of pandemic (Eugene Ostashevsky and Caroline Knox). There is also a focus on dreams (Dorothea Laskey), the repercussions for bankers (Matthew Zapruder) and a reworking of Genesis, in which Anna McDonald memorably writes: ‘I cried for my city wheezing under its viral load … Then I attended a funeral on Zoom’. This unique anthology of online poems takes its name from Noelle Kocott’s poem in the series: ‘AT the beginning of COVID-19’.

The series is curated by Jason Dodge who is an artist and publisher based in Berlin. For over twenty years he has been mounting exhibitions internationally and has been included in the Venice, Liverpool and Lyon biennials. His work is in many public collections including the Guggenheim in New York, the MCA Chicago and the French National collection. In 2012 Dodge founded the poetry imprint fivehundredplaces with the intention to connect poets to the art context, and artists to poets. Jason told the library about his thinking behind the project:

I’ve been struck with how news and information about Covid-19, numbers, symptoms, strategies and directives are constantly replaced each day with new statistics and opinions. I asked the poets in my life to send me the poems they were writing "now" meaning in the final weeks of March 2020. My belief is that there are healing vibrations in the writing of poems, and those vibrations might be important, and mean something in a way that is unique to poems.
Jason Dodge

Chris McCabe, National Poetry Librarian, says of the project:

Poetry has always played a part in the documentation of human suffering, when people turn to the words of poets to find the exact, heightened language, for extreme times. As poetry is such a nimble, fluid artform, times of difficulty often produce works of great energy, complexity and beauty. We were excited and intrigued when Jason shared a brand new series of poems – written during Covid-19 – and from the pens and keyboards of some of America’s most celebrated poets. ‘In the Beginning of Covid-19’ sheds light on these dark times, and brings new ways of seeing beyond the walls of our homes.
Chris McCabe

In the words of Cecilia Vicuña’s poem in the series, poetry can open up ways of feeling and thinking that add positivity to our isolation: ‘open up let the healing / come in’.

Read all twelve poems

Cecilia Vicuña, Impossible Glove
CAConrad, We Vanish Into One Another As Needed
Michael Dickman, White Hydrangea
Eileen Myles, Time Today
Donika Kelly, After work, I ride the train home
Matthew Zapruder, Just Deserts
Matthew Dickman, The Light Above the Grass
Anna McDonald, Prospect Heights Lament
Eugene Ostashevsky, Die Schreibblockade
Caroline Knox, Mom, he said
Dorothea Lasky, Birthday Trees
Noelle Kocott, AT the Beginning of Covid-19