During National Poetry Month in 2020, we asked our readers to share a poem from our Poets.org collection that helped them find courage, solace, and actionable energy, and a few words about how or why it does so. Responses arrived from across the globe, and we invite you to continue sharing poems on social media with the hashtag #ShelterInPoems or by on twitter, facebook, or instagram. The month culminated in a Shelter in Poems live event, which was free and open to the public.
“My Daughter's First Week” by Gennady Aygi
the quietness / where the child is—...
“Gennady Aygi (1934-2006) is a poet I often turn to. He’s brilliantly mysterious, not a poet of easy wisdom; his sort of depth is needed greatly at times like these—verbal and emotional complexity, not bromides. I only know his work through translation of course, but Peter France’s renderings of his poems are marvelous. Since we have a new grandchild, the gentle poem ‘My Daughter’s First Week’ spoke to me with all that is at risk.”
—Brenda Hillman, Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets
“Morning on Shinnecock” by Olivia Ward Bush-Banks
The rising sun had crowned the hills...
“I find this poem extremely comforting in our time. Most nights, I sit on the veranda of my flat and look at the stars in their brilliance and the crescent moon slowly going down in its yellowing glow. Olivia’s poem gives solace to a troubled soul. The images of nature that it evokes are so true to me and assuring in such times of great anxiety. Running in a parallel fashion of the rising sun and human development, the poem’s description of both courses of life is really of great relief to me in the crisis that surrounds us the world over.”
—Wampembe L., Zambia.
“Untitled” by James Baldwin
Lord, / when you send the rain...
“The Niagara River” by Kay Ryan
As though / the river were...
"Both of these poems look from two sides at the changed world we now live in—Ryan summons the way much still, for many of us, continues as if things were the same, when they surely are not; Baldwin stands directly inside the question of how to bear whatever intensity we must. These poems, both mortally serious yet also comic, bring, for me, a side-buttressing assistance.”
—Jane Hirshfield, Poem-a-Day Guest Editor for December 2020.
“Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow” by Robert Duncan
as if it were a scene made-up by the mind...
“This poem, which both separates and merges the real and the imagined, folding and unfolding, is never far from my mind. During these extraordinary days in which we find ourselves enclosed, the capacity to hold nature in the mind, to revisit light by means of the Muse—by which I mean the Imagination—is a crucial and beautiful human gift. It offers shelter. Be well, everyone.”
—Dana Levin, Poem-a-Day Guest Editor for March 2020
“The solar circle poem can be read in any direction, or simultaneously with various voices at a ‘distance,’ or it can be cut out and spun like a wheel. You choose where to begin and end.”
—Juan Felipe Herrera, former U.S. Poet Laureate
“Things I Didn’t Know I Loved” by Nazim Hikmet
It's 1962 March 28th...
“This poem has always meant a great deal to me. One of the world’s most revered writers, Turkish poet Hikmet was imprisoned for a good part of his life due to his radical ideas, his poetry, and his publication efforts. This poem describes the love of the very simplest elements of sky, stars, air, and the love of life itself upon being released from a long time in isolation. He wrote this poem of gratitude, nostalgia, and awe in Moscow, April 1962. He died in June 1963. I believe he left this poem as a gift for us all.”
—Tina Chang, Poet Laureate of Brooklyn
“Part of Eve’s Discussion” by Marie Howe
“This poem might seem an odd choice for inspiration, but for me, what I need in times of strife is a reminder of the truth of uncertainty, and at least a reference to survival. I can’t bear false hope, unfounded hope. Howe’s images are so sure, I feel them in my own body. Her last line describes, to me, the lives of all women—precarious—yet here we are, surviving. That’s what I need to hear.”
—Molly Fisk, Poet Laureate Fellow. Read the full poem on Poets.org.
“The Negro Speaks of Rivers” by Langston Hughes
I've known rivers...
“Hughes affirms a profound sense of connection to nature, history, and ancestry. Discovering one’s place in history involves work and suffering that ultimately brings wisdom and a beautifully deepened perspective on life. During this difficult time of crisis and uncertainty, Hughes reminds me of close ties to family, friends, nature, and history that are precious and sustaining.”
—Anita P., Boston.
“Disclosure” by Camisha L. Jones
I'm sorry, could you repeat that. I'm hard of hearing...
“‘Disclosure’ is clear and kind. It guides. Its truth is hard, but Jones patiently reminds us that language is a shelter. How we need it to survive. In this virus time, when we don’t want to hear, can’t hear, vomit what we hear, Jones says to us, I am here. She engenders a deepening person-to-person comprehension. I thank Camisha L. Jones.”
“The Layers” by Stanley Kunitz
I have walked through many lives...“I return to ‘The Layers’ by Stanley Kunitz at times of sadness and grief. He reminds me once again to embrace my losses, to understand that they are as much a part of me as my triumphs.”
“The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame...
“This poem actually changed the meaning of the Statue of Liberty, which originally had nothing to do with immigration. The poem redefines America as a ‘nation of immigrants,’ and allows us to think of ourselves as great not because we are warriors, but because we are generous and welcoming. This was its meaning when my grandparents came here at the turn of the twentieth century, and it is still the meaning for many millions of Americans.”
—Alicia Ostriker, Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.
“The Broken Sandal” by Denise Levertov
Dreamed the thong of my sandal broke....
“This is a poem I always return to. It is a reminder to live with intention—to re-evaluate those intentions from time to time, and to take care of one another. Remember, everyone is going through this.”
“Instructions on Not Giving Up” by Ada Limón
More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out...
“When I walk these days and watch the trees I think how lucky they are. I look to them with the eyes of a child asking how to be so rooted, so patient, ever reaching up. They are the closest thing to hope I can find.”
—Katherine S., Connecticut
“Kindness” by Naomi Shihab Nye
Before you know what kindness really is...
“Recently I read Naomi Shihab Nye’s poems to a patient who was alone in their hospital room, anxious and afraid given a new diagnosis during a time of visitor restrictions. The patient shared that the poetry and music along with the care of our interdisciplinary team helped them to be less afraid in a time of great fear.”
—Gwendolyn M., Washington
“In this poem, I recognize that showing up for each other—to see and feel and empathize with both the difficult and the beautiful—is the crux of this thing. As part of the recovery community, I’ve learned how important it is to live each moment, one day at a time, not only for myself but for the greater community. Although it’s easy today to feel overwhelmed by anxiety and suffering, reaching towards others is always a worthwhile endeavor.”
—S. M., Switzerland.
“Brown Love” by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
Brown love is getting the pat down but not the secondary screening...
“This is a poem that I find a sense of home with. It reminds me of how important representation is, which is something I needed to hear among a personal struggle with identity. It means a lot to know I’m not alone.”
—Monisha K., New South Wales, Australia
“Twenty-One Love Poems [Poem III]” by Adrienne Rich
Since we're not young, weeks have to do time...
“One of my favorite free sonnets is the third poem in a wonderful sequence called ‘Twenty-One Love Poems’ by Adrienne Rich. Every time I read ‘Poem III,’ the last couplet never fails to zap me with the hard truth about our fragile existence and how in times of crisis, we need each other more than ever: And somehow each of us will help the other live / And somewhere, each of us must help the other die.”
—Marilyn Chin, Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets
“I Am Much Too Alone in This World, Yet Not Alone” by Rainer Maria Rilke
I am much too alone in this world, yet not alone enough...
“Rilke somehow becomes the most insightful commentator of the current pandemic. Who doesn’t want free will? Who doesn’t want to take the path that leads to action? Who doesn’t want to be in the know, especially during times that beg questions? The uncertainties of love are the uncertainties of being on this earth. To be lost, to feel isolated, to not have the answers to the questions are the base code to living, pandemic or not. That Rilke converts his aloneness to relation is one of the great hopeful actions of art.”
“women’s voting rights at one hundred (but who’s counting?)” by Evie Shockley
eenie meenie minie moe...
“This poem serves as a reminder of the necessity to wake up and take action—even when COVID-19 is looming all around us. Even when it seems like our purpose in life is significantly declining amidst this sheltering in, the one thing we can do is make sure we never lose sight of what needs to be done in order to guarantee a safe future for everyone.”
—Leslie R. G.
“Practice Standing Unleashed and Clean” by Patricia Smith
Hide the awkward jolt of jawline, the fluttering eye, that wide...
“Always, I know a larger refuge in Patricia Smith’s voice, which marks that essential line between grief and grievance. This can be a time of fear, for everyone, and especially for Asian Pacific Islander Americans and immigrants, our ears straining for any news which might heave of those we love but cannot see. Patricia reminds us that if we feel we could ‘perish,’ to remember too we are still ‘wildly fragrant, curious land.’ Smith’s language, drenched with mercy and succor, is a courage in poetry as vital to me as my own air: all we can be now is here, and here, at least in poetry, we can hear the word heal in a voice brought home.”
—Sasha Pimentel, Poem-a-Day Guest Editor for October 2020
“Thaw” by Edward Thomas
Over the land freckled with snow half-thawed...
"I chose this poem hoping that somewhere high up, birds are picking up the first signs of the current crisis dissipating before a new spring.”
“The Flower at My Window” by Lucian B. Watkins
O! my heart now feels so cheerful as I go with footsteps light...
“I read ‘The Flower at My Window’ to my 92-year-old mother and tears filled her eyes. It seemed to put into words her experience of the world at the moment, the sweet little things that life makes available. It created a bridge between our hearts. Beautiful and simple.”