Earlier in April, we invited people to write and share their own original poems. It’s something we do annually for National Poetry Month, but we also wanted to acknowledge that we’re all in a very different place, compared to past years. We promised to give three open-to-interpretation prompts over the course of the month, allowing you to make this whatever you need it to be: a chance to document this moment or to escape from it in a way.
The first prompt was: “What a Difference a Month Makes.”
We could not have anticipated what was about to flood our inbox.
You told us about your shuttered neighborhood haunts and your eerily mundane routines. Your masks and your kids and your grocery lists. We know that everyone is making bread - it’s in the poems. So are the endless sirens. The elasticity of time. The 7 o’clock cheers.
We heard from many people who said they’ve never written a poem before, or haven’t in a long while, and enjoyed processing their thoughts in this new way. A physician volunteering at Bellevue said she hadn’t realized she needed to write about what she’s going through until she heard about the poetry challenge.
Thanks to everyone who wrote in. We’ve published our favorite five poems below, but you’re going to want to dive into this collection of the 150+ poems we received, all shared with permission. And here’s a kid-friendly curation, that sorts out darker themes.
Before you go, we’re retiring the first prompt. Here’s your second poetry prompt:
Answer the question you wish someone would ask you right now. Make the question the title of your poem.
Share yours on Twitter or Instagram using #PAUSEpoetry or email firstname.lastname@example.org. We may share your poem on the air or online. And we’ll have a third, final prompt for you sometime next week.
The Ro Ro
What a Month a Difference Makes
(for pandemia dyslexics or maybe my Dad)
I used to argue in my mind
with Eliot and his muddy line
being the cruellest month, after all,
Don’t November and February call
for cold consideration?
But this April?
This culling by drowning
in your own blood April?
This viral dying alone April.
This false flattening April, uncured and uncurved?
This invisible droplet
murderer, this isolation at all costs
a dozen eggs killing
the nice lady at the grocery store April?
This skin cracked soapy handed masked up month
of shameful breaths stolen outside
with refrigerated trucks out back of ER's
drive-through testing and us behind bars
in our own apartments?
But I love you dad, as you lose your mind
from two thousand miles and six feet away,
I know you're sad
quarantined in the condo with mom on lockdown.
And I too am too low for not seeing you or the Cherry now
that's hung with blossom on the bough--
(another poet's creeping in) to quote
three such poets is a literary win.
But white tents replicate like a virus, like spores
Everyone's afraid to go in stores.
While my colleagues, struggling to breathe
empty their own lungs at home with incentive
spirometers. I'm hurting (smile)
What's not about this April? while
in my head
I'm way too sad to sing,
bring something for Easter
from the kitchen to the hallway
And in a small way
we need celebrate a reborning,
heed the CDC warning us to
keep it together by keeping us apart.
The weather’s preternaturally wet and cold.
I start to rhyme in vain
As my bride of old says rain
resignedly: April showers
bring May horrors is
What we don’t say.
But we do not cry or bow down now to
the king of desolation crowning this verse,
as the siren of another hearse
wails past the windows of our sliver of Broadway Oh
So empty now, the loneliest of cities just became
more lonely somehow because of the Corona
--insta kids be calling it the Ro-Ro--
a tiny unseeable wicked witch which
(to misquote yet a colder poet)
with apologies in my defense--
This virus has made all the difference.
No, Old Tom made no calendrical mistakes:
April... What a Month a Difference makes.
-Mark Schulte on the Upper West Side
Each day, before I make my coffee,
I check on the Little Guy.
Did he grow?
Did he add a leaf?
Today, like me, he is stretching toward the window,
searching for the sun.
Four weeks ago,
(does he remember?)
He was a dot, curled up, dreaming,
Safe under the soil,
on the windowsill
in the kitchen
in Bubbie's home.
Tomorrow, I will put him on the stoop,
where he can smile at the neighbors
and feel the breeze.
And, some day soon, when he shares his fruit with me,
I will tell him about the one who tucked him in that first night.
And we will miss her together.
-Lisa Minsky-Primus, a physician on the Upper West Side (She adds: “I haven't lost anyone from my personal life, but I've spent this week talking with families who are dealing with sudden, heart-wrenching losses. So the pain, while real, is just something I'm helping others carry.”)
What a difference a month makes.
What difference does it make
that a month ago, we all knew these things were true
we just refused to say out loud that
we are all scared, all the time?
that we secretly want our mothers to be
what they were, unaging and ours,
when we were six?
that it is always the same person our
thoughts go back to when we have the
time? it's just usually at christmas, in the dead heat of summer,
or in the mornings on a weekend if we wake up
just a little too early and are alone before the coffee
but now it's all the time, that we
are afraid of our own thoughts
and that we finally have to admit to ourselves
that all we want is that someone, really
to call and say, "hello, I was just thinking about you,"
without us having to ask first.
-Cara Schumann in Birmingham, AL
Indifference of Days
Indifference has set up shop on the avenue
Among the locked up doors, the gated stores
All the same, all one, unified in silence
All of us retreated, masked,
Shuttered away from the blooming hyacinths
Outside the window.
The upstairs dog barks,
The downstairs neighbor on the phone yapping business,
The super in constant re-sanitizing of the bannister and
On the radio voices of separation of class
The race for hospital beds, alas
On a planetary scale,
The coffined parking lots,
Empty churches, temples and mosques
The elderly scattered, scared and pale.
Indifference of schedule,
Unification of days,
Read, write, pay taxes, file for unemployment
Run to grocery store
Steam in my glasses.
An old intention stirs from younger years:
Missing a crunch in my first baguette
But butter, or better, duck fat
Makes you savor it away.
What a difference a month makes.
-Jean Brassard in Chelsea
A Message From Your Captain
When we turned our apartment into a spaceship
last month, we didn't know
the difference it would make.
Of course, we knew it would take
The first thing we noticed was
the absence of gravity.
Nothing to hold us down
we bounced around haphazardly.
Everything did -
toys, cats, dishes, pillows, socks, children, books,
scrambled eggs, thoughts, water, old shoes,
- cleaning is futile.
After gravity, it was the switch to
lightspeed that knocked us over.
A month in the spaceship is like
three lifetimes on Earth.
I was always a Faulkner fan
(lifetimes ago when I read books like that)
but I didn't understand time-warp
until I lived it.
Spaceships are no joke.
There are alarm bells for everything
all the time.
And mission control is flooding us
with information and resources
(we have to turn them off to get some quiet).
Yes, we are grateful our communications equipment
But it reminds you that
you can't touch anyone
outside the spaceship.
Our youngest crew members are clinging
so much tighter to everything now.
We have bruises from their holds.
A month ago, before our apartment
was a spaceship,
I didn't know my crew like I do now.
Maybe my crew didn't know me so well, either.
These four rooms make us closer.
Our lightspeed stretches out
like a long string of homemade slime.
Or cuts them short
When the string gets too thin
Our lack of gravity throws us
and pushes us
Before we lived in a spaceship,
I didn't have time to make homemade slime.
Now it’s written in my job description.
What a difference a month makes.
-Emily Hicks-Rotella in the Bronx