Poetic challenge: how has the pandemic changed you?
No one comes out of the pandemic unaffected. Write a poem about how this past year has changed you.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
According to the CDC, more than 130 million Americans are starting this week fully vaccinated against COVID-19. It sounds like a moment that deserves to be marked. And who better to help us do this than MORNING EDITION Poet in Residence Kwame Alexander? Hey, Kwame.
KWAME ALEXANDER, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.
MARTIN: So that feels good. I will not lie. Like, at least here in the United States, it feels like you can breathe. We can finally sort of slack off. I mean, 2020 was just like a year of fighting.
ALEXANDER: It was. And now we can fight back. We can fight with vaccines and get a glimpse of what our life was like.
MARTIN: That’s right. And we know the pandemic is not over, but it feels like we are starting to wake up from this nightmare.
ALEXANDER: That’s right. I mean, the world hasn’t been so beautiful. It is a relief to see the ceasefire in Gaza. And the vaccines, honestly, as I traveled from London here to the United States, I felt filled with comfort and hope. But we must remain vigilant. We can’t say goodbye to social distancing and masks yet. But we can put aside the crippling fear and stress that has chained us to our homes.
MARTIN: Dr Anthony Fauci says we have a way to go before we see normal normal, right? But, you know, I think we can get permission to explore what that normal might look like. I mean, what about you? What are you looking forward to coming back to?
ALEXANDER: Well, I’m always happy to talk to you.
MARTIN: Yes, thank you.
ALEXANDER: But it’s the simple things. This is browsing my local independent bookstore. It’s, you know, stuffing my face with popcorn in a dark movie theater and hanging out with my family and friends. But coming back to this world, Rachel, I take out a changed man. I mean, we all come out a little different.
MARTIN: That’s right. How could we not? I mean, so much sickness and loss, civil unrest. And it just seemed to go on and on. There is no doubt that I can say that I have learned some things about myself. I think we’ve all learned things about each other too. And we just survived.
ALEXANDER: One of my favorite poets, the bubbling Maya Angelou, she understood this the most when she wrote, just like the moons and the suns, with the certainty of the tides, just like the hopes soaring high, I will rise anyway . And she goes on to say, you can shoot me with your words, you can cut me with your eyes, you can kill me with your hate, but still, like the air, I will stand up.
MARTIN: I love this poem. I like…
MARTIN: … Strength. I love the boldness of it. So you and I talk a lot about how poetry is this way for us to work on everything that is going on with ourselves, everything that is going on in the world. As we cross a turning point, maybe it is time to sit down and reflect and write a poem about the lessons we have all learned through it.
ALEXANDER: Yes, poetry helps us express, cry and celebrate. So what have you learned from the lockdown? I know that these calls to poetry that we made gave me life. So I was able to shout our wonderful and majestic producer, Kenya Young.
MARTIN: That’s right. Kenya Young, our executive producer, this is her last week on the show, so shout out in Kenya.
ALEXANDER: So we’re going to ask you to write a poem about how you got out of the other side of it all. You are going to use it as a front line or as an inspiration, I am still lifting myself up.
MARTIN: OK, yes. Submit your best work, and Kwame will do what he does best and create a crowd-sourced poem from all of those submissions. We’re doing a quick review on this, my friends, so get those entries to us by Wednesday. Send them to npr.org/lockdownlessons, all in one word, lockdownlessons.
ALEXANDER: Mask up, head down, pen on paper, let’s go, people.
MARTIN: Let’s go. Kwame Alexander, regular contributor to MORNING EDITION and co-author with James Patterson of “Becoming Muhammad Ali”. Thanks, Kwame.
ALEXANDER: Thanks, Rachel.
(SOUNDBITE OF SINITUS TEMPO “A STROLE THROUGH SAIGON”) Transcription provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.