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Friday, June 18, 2021

A 21st Century Plague: Poetry from a Pandemic


When University Professors Press added the anthology A 21st Century Plague: Poetry from a Pandemic to their “Poetry, Healing, and Growth Series,” I happily received a writer’s copy as one of the fifty-three poets whose poems comprise this remarkable collection.


In the Introduction, editor Elayne Clift gives us a glimpse of the goal:


International in scope, this collection offers validation, comfort, and support to those who have struggled with pandemic restrictions, sometimes with humor and always with compassion. Poems address coping with mundane acts of daily life, profound emotions inherent in the challenges we have been called upon to face during a frightening time, isolation, lack of physical intimacy, and ever-present anxieties. Offering perspectives derived from personal experience, poets from various cultures and age groups contribute to the literature of healthcare crises in deeply meaningful ways.”


But don’t just take her word and mine! See for yourself the richness of these selected poems:


In “Daily News,” for instance, poet Barbara Crooker writes:


And so this day is like every other,
beginning with coffee and ending
with wine. But with nowhere
to go, and nothing to do, I’m
going to take my time, sit
in the morning sun and savor
the darkness, black and bitter.
In the larger world, terrible
things continue to happen.
Here, the only action
is the hummingbird zipping
and sipping sugar water,
jazzed on sweetness, in love
with the sun….”

“The End of Summer 2020” brings us these poignant lines by Judith Adams:


Call for a convention of wild animals
So you can listen to their sorrow.
Ask forgiveness for history.
If you don’t know what you are here for,
sleep on the edge of the sea and let it
Breath for you.
One day you will be able
To kiss again…


Free verse and traditional poems give voice to what we’ve been thinking, feeling, and doing for many months, and yet this very time of uncertainty and, often chaos, has also brought reminders to reassess our priorities and acknowledge what’s truly important. i.e., Enjoy the NOW of things. Pray and watch without ceasing for good to come from hard times.

Brother Richard Hendrick opens the door to praise in these uplifting lines from “Lockdown”:


They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise
You can hear the birds sing again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet
The sky is no longer thick with fumes
But blue and grey and clear.
They say that in the streets of Assisi
People are singing to each other
Across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
So that those who are alone
May hear the sounds of family….


And look at these lines in “Face Mask” by Paul Hostovsky:


Have you noticed
how beautiful
everyone looks

when all you can see
are their eyes?


The pandemic also encourages us to open our eyes to perspectives other than our own and relevant issues such as “Covid Times in Prison” by Tony Vick.


God has been good to me, despite my bout with Covid. He brought people into my life when I needed them. But maybe the Mexican folktale holds some truth. God doesn’t need to photograph the poor and disenfranchised. He resides in their midst, loving them, knowing that we all must be free to seek a kinder, more compassionate world.

Without that, COVID-19 will be the least of our worries.”


May this excellent anthology help us to express our own fears and worries while reawakening us to beauty, joy, and the marvelous versatility of peoples and poetry.

©2021, Mary Harwell Sayler, poet and writer in all genres, including A Gathering of Poems



  1. What a wonderful review! Thank you so much Mary. I'm even more proud now to have birthed this important contribution to the literature and poetry the Covid pandemic inspired.