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Verses vs. Virus: What These Poets Laureate Are Thankful For Verses vs. Virus: What These Poets Laureate Are Thankful For
(about 11 hours later)
As Americans gather for Thanksgiving in a nation battered and brought low by rampant disease and division, you may ask: What in this of all years do we have to be thankful for?As Americans gather for Thanksgiving in a nation battered and brought low by rampant disease and division, you may ask: What in this of all years do we have to be thankful for?
More than a quarter-million lives have been lost to a scourge that at this time last year no one knew existed. Wildfires and hurricanes have ravaged great swaths of the country. Trusted institutions — science, post offices, the vote — have been politically assaulted.More than a quarter-million lives have been lost to a scourge that at this time last year no one knew existed. Wildfires and hurricanes have ravaged great swaths of the country. Trusted institutions — science, post offices, the vote — have been politically assaulted.
Jobs have disappeared. Hospitals have been overwhelmed. Lines stretch for blocks at food banks. Students cannot sit in classrooms or travel home from colleges without a face-masked ordeal of quarantine, swabs and evasive maneuvers. Neighbors cannot break bread safely around Thanksgiving tables, assuming they still have the will.Jobs have disappeared. Hospitals have been overwhelmed. Lines stretch for blocks at food banks. Students cannot sit in classrooms or travel home from colleges without a face-masked ordeal of quarantine, swabs and evasive maneuvers. Neighbors cannot break bread safely around Thanksgiving tables, assuming they still have the will.
Yet gratitude persists. Last week, we asked poets laureate across the country why the people in their states would be thankful. They enthusiastically responded, some within minutes, many with poetry.Yet gratitude persists. Last week, we asked poets laureate across the country why the people in their states would be thankful. They enthusiastically responded, some within minutes, many with poetry.
“I am thankful for friends,” wrote Nebraska’s state poet, Matt Mason:“I am thankful for friends,” wrote Nebraska’s state poet, Matt Mason:
“Lately, I’d been wanting a little light — and there it was,” wrote Karen Craigo of Missouri, describing a stand of small trees that “glowed like campfires” and made her think about other blessings.“Lately, I’d been wanting a little light — and there it was,” wrote Karen Craigo of Missouri, describing a stand of small trees that “glowed like campfires” and made her think about other blessings.
In Maine, Stuart Kestenbaum summoned “gale force winds along the coast in the morning” and thanked the crew — “these men doing their jobs” — that repaired his downed power line in the dark, in head lamps.In Maine, Stuart Kestenbaum summoned “gale force winds along the coast in the morning” and thanked the crew — “these men doing their jobs” — that repaired his downed power line in the dark, in head lamps.
“It’s not hard for Californians to know whom to thank in 2020,” wrote the state’s most recent poet laureate, Dana Gioia. “Four million acres of the Golden State went up in flames this fall. We thank — profoundly and prodigiously — the fire, police, and emergency personnel, as well as the prison volunteers, who risked their own safety to protect us.” “It’s not hard for Californians to know whom to thank in 2020,” wrote Dana Gioia, California’s most recent poet laureate. “Four million acres of the Golden State went up in flames this fall. We thank — profoundly and prodigiously — the fire, police, and emergency personnel, as well as the prison volunteers, who risked their own safety to protect us.”
Oregon’s poet laureate, Anis Mojgani, was grateful, too, “for the earth still / having not released us.” His predecessor, Kim Stafford, recalling the catastrophic wildfires that swept through that state, wrote of another savior: “rain nipping flame’s root, gray mud of ash.”Oregon’s poet laureate, Anis Mojgani, was grateful, too, “for the earth still / having not released us.” His predecessor, Kim Stafford, recalling the catastrophic wildfires that swept through that state, wrote of another savior: “rain nipping flame’s root, gray mud of ash.”
And in Minnesota, Joyce Sutphen gave thanks forAnd in Minnesota, Joyce Sutphen gave thanks for
Not all states responded. The New York Times request came with some prosaic conditions — 100 words or less on a newspaper deadline, a tall order for an exacting art form. Some states have no poet laureate. New Jersey abolished the post in 2003 amid controversy, and Idaho replaced it in the 1980s with a broader “writer-in-residence” appointment. The last full-time poet to hold that job, Diane Raptosh, who has also served as poet laureate of Boise, offered that state’s poem.Not all states responded. The New York Times request came with some prosaic conditions — 100 words or less on a newspaper deadline, a tall order for an exacting art form. Some states have no poet laureate. New Jersey abolished the post in 2003 amid controversy, and Idaho replaced it in the 1980s with a broader “writer-in-residence” appointment. The last full-time poet to hold that job, Diane Raptosh, who has also served as poet laureate of Boise, offered that state’s poem.
Still other states were between poets. In California, Mr. Gioia’s term ended in 2018 and the governor has yet to appoint a successor. Illinois had been without an official poet since 2017; we received submissions from its last laureate and the poet who succeeded him on Wednesday.Still other states were between poets. In California, Mr. Gioia’s term ended in 2018 and the governor has yet to appoint a successor. Illinois had been without an official poet since 2017; we received submissions from its last laureate and the poet who succeeded him on Wednesday.
But the many writers who did respond reflected a widespread, if weary, appreciation, both for regional grit and more universal blessings. Many wrote, in these socially distanced times, of the humanity and fellowship around them.But the many writers who did respond reflected a widespread, if weary, appreciation, both for regional grit and more universal blessings. Many wrote, in these socially distanced times, of the humanity and fellowship around them.
Hawaii’s poet was grateful for “tight-knit island communities,” Wyoming’s for “neighbor helping neighbor / despite long distances,” and Alabama’s for a state where people “rally to help each other out in times of crisis.”Hawaii’s poet was grateful for “tight-knit island communities,” Wyoming’s for “neighbor helping neighbor / despite long distances,” and Alabama’s for a state where people “rally to help each other out in times of crisis.”
And North Carolina’s for “North Carolinians” and “the many ways we have gathered together to take care of each other.” And South Dakota’s for “food, resources, / each other — love and fear’s first real test.”And North Carolina’s for “North Carolinians” and “the many ways we have gathered together to take care of each other.” And South Dakota’s for “food, resources, / each other — love and fear’s first real test.”
Paisley Rekdal of Utah wrote of “something unusual: crowds in the canyons.” Bobby LeFebre of Colorado reached out on social media to crowdsource that state’s thanks for “love, familia, health, work, creator, community, cultura / resilience, art, abolitionists, education, imagination, clarity / life, truth, weed,” and much more.Paisley Rekdal of Utah wrote of “something unusual: crowds in the canyons.” Bobby LeFebre of Colorado reached out on social media to crowdsource that state’s thanks for “love, familia, health, work, creator, community, cultura / resilience, art, abolitionists, education, imagination, clarity / life, truth, weed,” and much more.
Beth Ann Fennelly of Mississippi was “grateful to be counted on: One Mississippi, Two. Grateful for the word y’all. Grateful for the emphatic all y’all.”Beth Ann Fennelly of Mississippi was “grateful to be counted on: One Mississippi, Two. Grateful for the word y’all. Grateful for the emphatic all y’all.”
“After many and much / have been taken from us, we gather what remains / like hallowed guests at our otherwise empty table,” explained Kevin Stein, the last Illinois poet laureate, who was succeeded by Angela Jackson.“After many and much / have been taken from us, we gather what remains / like hallowed guests at our otherwise empty table,” explained Kevin Stein, the last Illinois poet laureate, who was succeeded by Angela Jackson.
She was grateful for “waystations / Peopled with all kinds / Of people — / All colors / A One / In the Land of Lincoln.” Similarly, Virginia’s poet laureate, Luisa A. Igloria, recalled the toppling of Confederate monuments in the racial reckoning of the summer and gave thanks “for the thousand-thousand bodies / marching in the hearts of grieving, / inflamed cities.”She was grateful for “waystations / Peopled with all kinds / Of people — / All colors / A One / In the Land of Lincoln.” Similarly, Virginia’s poet laureate, Luisa A. Igloria, recalled the toppling of Confederate monuments in the racial reckoning of the summer and gave thanks “for the thousand-thousand bodies / marching in the hearts of grieving, / inflamed cities.”
M.L. Smoker and Melissa Kwasny, Montana’s poets laureate, wrote jointly that “after 125 years, the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians was finally granted federal recognition.” Next door, Ms. Raptosh wrote four “Gratitude Sonnets,” praying that the “vowels within Idaho” can “slipper us into some new, non-tribal unities.”M.L. Smoker and Melissa Kwasny, Montana’s poets laureate, wrote jointly that “after 125 years, the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians was finally granted federal recognition.” Next door, Ms. Raptosh wrote four “Gratitude Sonnets,” praying that the “vowels within Idaho” can “slipper us into some new, non-tribal unities.”
Kari Gunter-Seymour of Ohio name-checked Zoom, “a window of windows inside a dollhouse,” and she was not the only one. Grace Cavalieri of Maryland thanked it for bringing poetry, which “can’t be stopped by calamity.” Alexandria Peary wrote that people in New Hampshire were glad to look up from it and “see Mount Washington in their living room window.”Kari Gunter-Seymour of Ohio name-checked Zoom, “a window of windows inside a dollhouse,” and she was not the only one. Grace Cavalieri of Maryland thanked it for bringing poetry, which “can’t be stopped by calamity.” Alexandria Peary wrote that people in New Hampshire were glad to look up from it and “see Mount Washington in their living room window.”
“Thank you for drawing the crow outside my window,” wrote Mary Ruefle of Vermont. “Thank you for drawing the wrinkled bittersweet berries.” Tina Cane of Rhode Island cited “sweeping ocean views / that give a sense of peace and wonder and hope, some space to rest.”“Thank you for drawing the crow outside my window,” wrote Mary Ruefle of Vermont. “Thank you for drawing the wrinkled bittersweet berries.” Tina Cane of Rhode Island cited “sweeping ocean views / that give a sense of peace and wonder and hope, some space to rest.”
In New Mexico, Levi Romero was “thankful for remedios, te de cota, manzanilla, osha,” and in Kansas, Huascar Medina wrote, gratefully, that “some of us are going to save a lot on our small Thanksgiving dinners,” including, perhaps, one another. Larry Woiwode in North Dakota thanked the “dual poles of the Dakota mind: / Faith and work” and between them, another remedy: “the common Act of art.”In New Mexico, Levi Romero was “thankful for remedios, te de cota, manzanilla, osha,” and in Kansas, Huascar Medina wrote, gratefully, that “some of us are going to save a lot on our small Thanksgiving dinners,” including, perhaps, one another. Larry Woiwode in North Dakota thanked the “dual poles of the Dakota mind: / Faith and work” and between them, another remedy: “the common Act of art.”
In Kentucky, Jeff Worley offered art, too — a sampler of books by his state’s writers and poets. Chelsea Rathburn in Georgia, looking at a picture her daughter made last Thanksgiving, asked her what she was grateful for in 2020. “That this year is nearly over,” the 8-year-old replied.In Kentucky, Jeff Worley offered art, too — a sampler of books by his state’s writers and poets. Chelsea Rathburn in Georgia, looking at a picture her daughter made last Thanksgiving, asked her what she was grateful for in 2020. “That this year is nearly over,” the 8-year-old replied.
Delaware’s poets, the twin brothers Al Mills and Nnamdi Chukwuocha, saluted their fellow Delawarean, President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. And Peter Meinke wrote an ode to Florida, which “voted for Trump and would again if given a chance.”Delaware’s poets, the twin brothers Al Mills and Nnamdi Chukwuocha, saluted their fellow Delawarean, President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. And Peter Meinke wrote an ode to Florida, which “voted for Trump and would again if given a chance.”
Running through the responses was a thread: gratitude just to still be here. Maybe that’s appropriate for a holiday that we trace to Pilgrims who were desperate not to die of starvation, and that was made official by a Civil War president who was desperate for his divided nation to have something, anything, in common, even just one meal in November.Running through the responses was a thread: gratitude just to still be here. Maybe that’s appropriate for a holiday that we trace to Pilgrims who were desperate not to die of starvation, and that was made official by a Civil War president who was desperate for his divided nation to have something, anything, in common, even just one meal in November.
Still, it is striking: On a day we have come to celebrate for comity and plenty, we stand apart this year and give thanks, even in our poetry, for simple survival.Still, it is striking: On a day we have come to celebrate for comity and plenty, we stand apart this year and give thanks, even in our poetry, for simple survival.
“You see we’re still holding on here just enough,” wrote Marc Harshman, the poet laureate of West Virginia, “despite all we’re doing wrong.”“You see we’re still holding on here just enough,” wrote Marc Harshman, the poet laureate of West Virginia, “despite all we’re doing wrong.”
We received nearly three dozen submissions in all. Here is a sampling:We received nearly three dozen submissions in all. Here is a sampling:
By Stuart KestenbaumBy Stuart Kestenbaum
Poet laureate of MainePoet laureate of Maine
By Kari Gunter-SeymourBy Kari Gunter-Seymour
Poet laureate of OhioPoet laureate of Ohio
By Kevin SteinBy Kevin Stein
Former poet laureate of IllinoisFormer poet laureate of Illinois
By Beth Ann FennellyBy Beth Ann Fennelly
Poet laureate of MississippiPoet laureate of Mississippi
By Luisa A. IgloriaBy Luisa A. Igloria
Poet laureate of VirginiaPoet laureate of Virginia
By Anis MojganiBy Anis Mojgani
Poet laureate of OregonPoet laureate of Oregon
By Kim StaffordBy Kim Stafford
Former poet laureate of OregonFormer poet laureate of Oregon
By Christine Stewart-NuñezBy Christine Stewart-Nuñez
Poet laureate of South DakotaPoet laureate of South Dakota
By Matt MasonBy Matt Mason
Nebraska state poetNebraska state poet
By Larry WoiwodeBy Larry Woiwode
Poet laureate of North DakotaPoet laureate of North Dakota
By Joyce SutphenBy Joyce Sutphen
Poet laureate of MinnesotaPoet laureate of Minnesota
By Karen CraigoBy Karen Craigo
poet laureate of Missouripoet laureate of Missouri
By Eugene M. GaglianoBy Eugene M. Gagliano
Poet laureate of WyomingPoet laureate of Wyoming
By Angela JacksonBy Angela Jackson
The poet laureate of IllinoisThe poet laureate of Illinois
Giving ThanksGiving Thanks
Read all the poems here.Read all the poems here.