Kent State’s Wick Poetry Center brings pandemic voices to stage

A collaboration with the Kent State Wick Poetry Center that harnessed the power of poetry to give meaning to our collective experience of the global pandemic was spectacularly celebrated nearly two weeks ago in Washington, DC

What We Learned While Alone: ​​Global Voices Speak to the Pandemic premiered a week ago last Monday at the National Academy of Science’s beautifully restored Kavli Auditorium and may be going on an extensive tour.

The 150 to 200 participants, many of whom were from the Kent area, actually witnessed two events. First, “Dear Vaccine: Global Voices Speak to the Pandemic” was celebrated. This is the book published by The Kent State University Press from content created from an interactive website created jointly by the Wick Poetry Center and the University of Arizona Poetry Center at Tucson, inviting all to share their To share experiences of the pandemic in a poetic way.

The second event was the premiere of What We Learned While Alone: ​​Global Voices Speak to the Pandemic, a theatrical adaptation of the book created from selected and edited excerpts by David Hassler, Director of the Wick Poetry Center.

With guitar accompaniment, an ensemble that included Bryce Evan Lewis, Eric Schmiedel and Tiffany Trapnell vocalised, posed and danced to the excerpts.

Prompts asked what a person forced to isolate during the pandemic had missed, grieved, liked, learned, feared and so on. While the cast performed, the live audience was invited to contribute online responses, which became a public poem about the pandemic.

“Future productions will continue to archive audience reactions to the performance on the Global Vaccine Poem Project’s website, and visitors to the website will be able to sort by date and view responses from different communities throughout production tours,” Hassler said.

Attendees in Washington responded enthusiastically in an audience feedback session. Additional performances are planned for the Kent State campus and some high schools in the area. With possible funding from the Ohio Arts Council and other sources, performances at schools and colleges across the state of Ohio could soon be in the works. Kent State University campuses in Europe and Latin America create the opportunity to host the presentation in other countries.

Although he was one of the producers and not part of the cast, Hassler is a gifted stage actor and can captivate audiences and people who may not have encountered poetry and its power. He’s one of those charismatic people who change lives in a positive direction.

COVID killed more than a million Americans and an estimated 6 million worldwide and likely many more whose deaths have never been reported.

Such a catastrophe can cause psychological stress and trauma worldwide. In the case of COVID, stress and trauma were given the opportunity to express themselves poetically because last year the two poetry centers launched their interactive website inviting everyone to share their experiences in a poetic way.

A sample poem by Young Peoples’ Poetry Foundation’s Poet Laureate, Naomi Shibab Nye, has been posted on the site, urging people to help others raise their voices.

Thousands responded, their votes coming from 118 countries, an incredible number representing well over half of the world’s 195 countries. Their poetic responses formed a truly global conversation that was published and featured on the PBS Newshour.

Tyler Meier, executive director of the University of Arizona’s Poetry Center, led a discussion of the book with a panel of experts during the event in Washington two weeks ago.

Following the book, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine wrote, “We know the future is unpredictable, except for one certainty: We will all share the future together. It is all the more reason to rely on art. . . to learn more about ourselves and how we are all connected.”

The governor couldn’t have said it better.

David E. Dix is ​​a retired editor of the Record-Courier.