Welcome to International Poetry Circle: Community and Hope in the Time of Quarantine
Feeling isolated? You’re not alone. Join #InternationalPoetryCircle:
video poems by poets and poetry lovers.
On March 15th, I took a gut-punch-lonely dystopian walk in downtown Bucharest to get food to shelter in place. As soon as I stepped onto the sidewalk, a man skateboarded by wearing a mask. I waited for the crosswalk light to turn green even though there was no traffic. One car stopped at the intersection, windows rolled up, a masked woman in the passenger seat. I felt like I’d been transported to a new world — one whose language and rules were on the other side of something lonelier than lonely can feel alone in your hardest moments.
My body didn’t know how to handle this new sensation, this new world. I felt short-circuited, I kept almost crying as I walked the empty main boulevard in the middle of the afternoon. When I got home I tried to think of something that would help me feel less lonely. To help you feel less lonely too. I thought about poetry.
I remembered an instance in which a best friend, on the phone with me during one of my most trying times, said, in an attempt to make me feel better: “Would you like me to read you a poem?” Then I thought of kindergarten, how we sat in a circle for story time, how calming that always felt. How we’re natural storytellers, all of us. And how poetry is a form of storytelling that has gotten me through every hard time in my life.
I was about to teach an online writing workshop. I propped my phone on my bookshelf, pressed record, sat on my couch, and in one candid take, made an introductory video in which I talked, for under a minute, about how we really need each other right now, how we often turn to poetry in traumatic times….
And so began #InternationalPoetryCircle, my global initiative in which poetry lovers and poets around the world record themselves reading poems to help us all feel more connected and hopeful during this time of quarantine & social distancing.
Since the start of this project, individual poem videos have been popping up daily on all major online platforms:
poets like Ada Limón, Joyce Peseroff, Lloyd Schwartz, Maggie Smith, Saul Williams…
public figures like Dolly Parton, David Gray, Hozier, Lana Del Rey, Rhett Miller, Dessa, The Good Place’s Mitch Narito…. And Neko Case told me she’ll record one soon.
And one so dear to my heart: The Executive Director and staff of the Emily Dickinson Museum recorded a special #InternationalPoetryCircle video in Dickinson’s bedroom and in some Dickinson-inspired spots!
At the start of April, a Cambridge librarian’s sock puppet, Claude the Reciter, began reciting a poem a day too!
And this week, in a collaboration with Harvard Arts, poet Jorie Graham read one of her poems for Earth Day.
So far we have somewhere around 1500 poem videos, in over 15 languages, on Twitter alone — and the hashtag has spread to Youtube, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, even LinkedIn!
And, thanks to Mark Antony Owen, founder of my favorite new poetry archive Iambapoet, who stepped up to help me manage IPC when I became inundated trying to keep up with the number of videos daily, the project now has an official Twitter account, @IntPoetryCircle, where you can find all incoming videos in one easy place.
Everyone is invited to contribute, and here’s how:
- Record a video of yourself reading a poem.
- Post it on social media with the hashtag #InternationalPoetryCircle.
- For increased accessibility: Add captions or a photo/link to the poem for people to read.
Or you can just sit back, watch, and listen to people reading poems to you.
We really do need each other. Especially right now.
And that’s all the poem I have inside me today.
Please stay safe and well, and I’m sending you all love from Bucharest.