Based on the anthology Dear Vaccine: Global Voices Speak to the Pandemic published by The Kent State University Press. Edited by Naomi Shihab Nye, David Hassler, and Tyler Meier. Adapted for the stage by David Hassler.
Share your voice during the performace.
After the show ends, view the responses from the performance.
FAITH R. ROUSH
Participating Artists: NAOMI SHIHAB NYE
Design and Technology:
OHIO ARTS COUNCIL
All the poems presented in the show are used with permission from The Kent State University Press.
For information about scheduling a performance contact:
Edited by: Naomi Shihab Nye,
David Hassler, and Tyler Meier
Foreword by Dr. Richard Carmona
Afterword by Governor Mike DeWine
People from around the world reflect on the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccine through poetry.
When so much in our lives ground to a halt in the spring of 2020, no one knew how long the COVID-19 pandemic would last. After long months of shutdowns, social distancing, and worry, the first coronavirus vaccines were released in December 2020.
In March 2021, the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University and the University of Arizona Poetry Center launched the website for the Global Vaccine Poem project, inviting anyone to share experiences of the pandemic and vaccination through poetry. Dear Vaccine features selections from over 2,000 poetry submissions to the project, which come from all 50 states and 118 different countries.
Internationally acclaimed author Naomi Shihab Nye, in her introduction, highlights the human dimensions found across the responses. Richard Carmona, the 17th Surgeon General of the United States, provides a foreword that contextualizes the global scope of the problem, as well as the political and public health dimensions.
Making use of poetry’s powerful tools to connect us across division, Dear Vaccine reminds us that medical advances alone are not enough to solve the vexing challenges of the pandemic; the arts—and poetry—have a profound and critical role to play.
Purchase the Dear Vaccine book with a discount.
The idea for the Global Vaccine Poem began on a phone call with Arizona arts administrators in late January 2021, convened by the Arizona Commission on the Arts. Acknowledging the profound challenges the pandemic presented across all sectors of our lives, the group was working to imagine how we could bring all our resources—especially from the arts and culture sector—to help meet the specter of this particularly difficult challenge. We talked about how our cultural civic institutions were sites of public trust—how could we leverage this trust? We talked about the power of the arts to make the science behind vaccine development and vaccination outcomes more meaningful and more powerful. We talked about how storytelling could help allay the public health conundrum of vaccine hesitancy.
After the call, Tyler Meier, from the University of Arizona Poetry Center, reached out to David Hassler, from the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University. The Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University had been pioneering digital platforms and expressive writing tools as part of their Traveling Stanzas community poetry project and interactive website. The moment for poetry was rich. Amanda Gorman had just mesmerized the United States with her inaugural poem for the new presidential administration, an inflection moment in a greater trend: poetry readership was expanding in the United States, especially among younger readers from diverse backgrounds. We know the art form is simultaneously expansive and yet provides easy access for anyone to experiment with its materials of language and honesty, emotion and compression. We quickly realized that a public, participatory art project featuring poetry had a real shot at making a difference.
David reached out to celebrated poet Naomi Shihab Nye, the Poetry Foundation’s Young People’s Poet Laureate, and asked her about creating a model poem for the project; her enthusiasm was (and is!) infectious, and she immediately began imagining a poem on the spot and joined the project as a key collaborator. Her poem “Dear Vaccine” was the result, and became our model for four writing prompts to invite participation in the project.
With initial financial investment from the University of Arizona and Kent State University, The Wick Poetry Center’s design and development collaborators Each+Every created the project website and the project materials. www.globalvaccinepoem.com went live in late March 2021, and we distributed cards inviting participation into the project at vaccination sites in Arizona, Ohio, and Texas.
What happened next was profound for all of us. Thousands of responses poured in not just from partner vaccination sites, but from around the globe—all 50 states and more than 118 countries to date. Responses came in from grandparents and children, and from people from every walk of
life. The ‘positive contagion’ of the project spread and spread and spread. In April of 2022, we published the Dear Vaccine anthology, collecting many of the responses to the public project in book form. The anthology is a kind of collective picture of our experience of the pandemic, and our hopes for what might come after. The project itself became so much more than a poetry project: at times, reading the responses, it was possible to believe we’d created a virtual wishing well, or an ofrenda—an altar where we remember what we’ve lost. Periodically, it felt we had a register of grievances; at other times the responses felt a kind of stand-in definition for what the word hopeful might mean. Now we are excited to launch a theatrical performance that carries the project even further.
If you’ve participated, thank you for being a part of this ever-expanding project. If you haven’t, there’s still time to add your voice to the eclectic and wonderful chorus. If we’ve learned anything through this time, we need each and every one of us.
David Hassler & Tyler Meier
Save us, dear vaccine.
Take us seriously.
We had plans.
We were going places.
Children in kindergarten.
So many voices, in chorus.
Give us our world again!
Tiny gleaming vials,
enter our cities and towns
shining your light.
Restore us to each other.
We liked our lives.
Maybe we didn’t thank them enough.
Being able to cross streets
with people we didn’t know,
pressing elevator buttons,
smiling at strangers,
standing in line to pay.
We liked standing in line
more than we pretended.
It’s a quick prick in the arm
You’ll barely notice it
It’s the gas in the car
Getting us going again
It’s the turn in the road
It’s the hug. Forever,
it’s the hug!
Vaccine, please make the air clean!
We went to yoga classes,
deep collective breathing,
in small rooms in cities
where we didn’t even
live! How brave we were.
Restore our lives.
Believe they were beautiful.
David Hassler directs the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University. He cofounded Traveling Stanzas, an international community arts project, and is the author or coeditor of ten books of poetry and nonfiction, including Dear Vaccine: Global Voices Speak to the Pandemic and Speak a Powerful Magic: Ten Years of the Traveling Stanzas Poetry Project. Hassler’s awards include Ohio Poet of the Year, Ohioana Book Award, and the Carter G. Woodson Honor Book Award. His play, May 4th Voices: Kent State, 1970, published by The Kent State University Press, was produced in 2020 as a national radio play.
Ambre Emory-Maier, MFA, MA, ERYT-500 is an Assistant Professor of Dance at Kent State University. She has worked in the dance field for over thirty-five years and remains passionate and committed to providing a positive impact on dancers, students, teachers, and the community. She frequently stages dances from Labanotation including dances choreographed by George Balanchine. With an interest in well-being and progressive growth of the ballet spaces in which she lives, Ambre brings her acknowledged kinship with dance, yoga, meditation, and mental health care to her practices. As a chronic migraineur, she is a guest writer for Migraine Strong’s Blog.
Dr. John Morris is entering his 26th year of teaching at Shaker Heights High School. John has edited both A Teacher's Resource Book for May 4th Voices: Kent State, 1970 (Kent State University Press, 2013) and A Teacher’s Resource Book for Sand Opera (The Arab American Museum website, 2021). He has also been the recipient of the Facing History Margot Stern Strom Innovation Grant, Cleveland Foundation, and Martha Holden Jennings Grants for his work with May 4th Voices. Dr. Morris resides in Shaker Heights with his wife Maryann, two children Sam and Sophia, and poorly behaved pets Mirren and Lego.
Each+Every is an independent design and development studio building brands, websites, applications, and environments. They focus on building collaborative relationships with our clients to create strategic, meaningful, and impactful design.
Andy Meredith is excited to be joining the What We Learned crew for their first production as a Stage Manager. When they aren’t behind the screen, they enjoy playing guitar, bass, and writing funny things. They hope to be seen more around Cleveland Theatre in the coming year. Andy would like to thank their friends and their dogs.
Faith R. Roush (Stage Manager) is a freelance artist with a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre Management from Kent State University. Recent credits include Plaid as Hell (Production Manager – Babes with Blades Theatre Company), The Thin Place (Production Stage Manager – Dobama Theatre) The Revolutionists (Stage Manager – Equality Productions), Godspell (Production Stage Manager – Porthouse Theatre), and Little Shop of Horrors (Assistant Stage Manager – Porthouse Theatre). Faith is ecstatic to be a part of What We Learned While Alone and would like to thank her partner and family for their continuous love and support. Special thanks to Ron and Alzana Nuzzolillo for inspiring her to pursue a career in the arts.
Anne McEvoy is a Cleveland-based actor and director. In 2019, she directed the world premier of Lisa Langford's Rastus and Hattie at Cleveland Public Theatre. Elsewhere she has worked at Beck Center, Blank Canvas, CATCO, The Cleveland Play House, Cleveland Public Theatre, Dobama, Ensemble, Great Lakes Theatre, Karamu, NaCl, None Too Fragile, Ohio Shakespeare, and Seat of the Pants Theatre. Anne feels privileged to be working on this special project, giving voice to the words of so many open-hearted poets from all over the world.
Eric Schmiedl is a theatre artist based in Cleveland and a graduate of Kent State University and the University of Hawai’i. He has collaborated with theatres including the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, the Cleveland Play House, the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Cleveland Public Theatre, Karamu House, and the Honolulu Theatre for Youth. Eric’s work has been recognized by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Sloan Foundation, and the Edgerton Foundation New American Play Awards. His newest play, My Hemisphere, a partnership with storyteller Adaora Nzelibe Schmiedl, was a 2021 National Playwrights Conference finalist at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center.
Naomi Shihab Nye is the author and/or editor of more than 30 volumes, including 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East (finalist for the National Book Award). Other works include several prize-winning poetry anthologies, including The Space Between Our Footsteps: Poems & Paintings from the Middle East. Her collection of poems for young adults entitled Honeybee won the 2008 Arab American Book Award in the Children’s/Young Adult category. Her new novel for children, The Turtle of Oman, was chosen both a Best Book of 2014 by The Horn Book and a 2015 Notable Children's Book by the American Library Association. In 2010 Nye was elected to the Board of Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets. Nye is the Poetry Foundation's Young People's Poet Laureate.
Tyler Meier is the Executive Director of the University of Arizona Poetry Center. With more than 80,000 cataloged items, the Poetry Center houses one of the largest collections of contemporary poetry in the United States. Prior to coming to the Poetry Center, Meier served as Managing Editor of the Kenyon Review.
Executive Director, Ohio Arts Council
Dean Mandy Munro-Stasiuk
Kent State University College of Arts & Sciences
Assistant Director, Wick Poetry Center
Kent State University
School of Theatre and Dance
Kent State University
College of Public Health & Healthy Communities Institute
Kent State University
College of Nursing
University of Arizona
University of Arizona
Shaker Heights High School Foundation
Beck Center for the Arts
Director, Cultural Programs of the National Academy of Sciences / Art Advisor, Issues in Science and Technology
Senior Program Associate, Cultural Programs of the National Academy of Sciences
Fiscal Sponsorship Provided by
OhioDance, Jane D’Angelo, Executive Director
Assembly for the Arts
Traveling Stanzas community arts projects bring poetry to people’s everyday lives through innovative methods and digital platforms.
Learn more at TravelingStanzas.com
All content copyright 2021 Traveling Stanzas
with additional support from the Offices of the President and Provost at the University of Arizona and the Kent State University College of Arts and Sciences.