Kent, OH

The Global Vaccine Poem promote COVID-19 vaccination through poetry

James Stephens

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KENT, OH — Kent State University’s Wick Poetry Center and the University of Arizona’s Poetry Center launched the Global Vaccine Poem in early April to promote COVID-19 vaccination through the language of poetry.

The Global Vaccine Poem has collected more than 1.700 stanzas submitted by people around the world. They started the project in April 2021, which is National Poetry Month. This project has gained the attention of Ohio Governor Mike DeWine.

“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,” DeWine said during his news conference on May 17. “And while the thoughts and words each person contributes are unique, it’s a project that is uniting people, healing, and is spreading hope.”

“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.”

The two university poetry centers agreed to collaborate on the project with a few simple premises: “What would you say to the COVID-19 vaccine?”, “Would you summarize your experience during the pandemic?” and “Would you focus on your hopes for the future?”

They hope to provide the world an inclusive and participatory opportunity to share their feelings and voices during the universal vaccination experience.

“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 reflect on both the pandemic and their vaccination, and to imagine a safe and thriving future.”

Since the project's launch in April, the effort has gained media attention and submissions from people all over the world who have visited the poem project’s website to share their feelings of the hope that the vaccine brings.

Todd Diacon, Kent State University President, one of the first participants to submit a stanza for the poem, wrote: “The short, sharp pain—a welcomed feeling after a year of dull ache. Memories of a sugar cube soaked with medicine.”

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

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

Recently, Hassler was permitted to pass out the cards at one of the state’s mass vaccination sites, the Wolstein Center at Cleveland State University, enabling him to reach even more Ohioans.

The project chronicles personal, individual responses to the historic and encompassing challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as a form of support for the worldwide vaccination effort.

“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.”

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