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A poem a day keeps Isolation away

Susan Saccoccia

A recipient of NEA Arts Journalism fellowships in dance, theater and music, Susan reviews visual and performing arts in the U.S. and overseas.

A poem a day keeps Isolation away

April is National Poetry Month, and a good time to put poetry to work in your daily life.

Poetry helps us find our way to ourselves and to others, and poems can be a source of consolation, courage and connection in a challenging time.

An ideal way to begin is to sign up for free daily delivery of a poem via e-mail at

A service of the Academy of American Poets, which also runs National Poetry Month, Poem-a-Day presents you with a new work by a contemporary American poet. You see the poem on a page, as the poet arranges its words and lines; and you can also hear the poet read the poem. 

Accompanying the poem is the poet’s brief essay, “About This Poem,” a short biography and photograph, and a link to more poems by the poet.

Each month, a different poet curates Poem-a-Day. The site includes a Q&A on the poet’s approach to selecting works, which are usually being published for the first time. February’s curator, Roger Reeves, associate professor of poetry at University of Texas at Austin, says that he chose poems “that spanned the largeness of America … poems that grappled with our ignominious history.”  Asked what he is reading, Reeves says that he is re-reading “Beloved,” because its author, Toni Morrison, will “keep a brother’s head on straight.”

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April’s curator is Joy Harjo, U.S. Poet Laureate.

Last Tuesday’s selection was Aaron Coleman’s “Another Strange Land: Downpour off Cape Hatteras (March 1864),” which he dedicates to “my ancestor in the Pennsylvania 25th Colored Infantry aboard the Suwanee.”

Coleman tells a gripping story, partly based on an historic event — a Civil War ship with a crew of former slaves being crushed by a storm — using the rhythmic, sensory language of poetry to immerse the reader in the moment-by-moment struggle for survival. 

As the storm rises, the narrator says,  “I grab a bucket. You grab a bucket. We the 25th Pennsylvania Colored Infantry, newly formed and too alive and close to free to sink below this midnight water.” The concluding line may be the poet’s own voice, saying, “I will not drown.”

On Saturday, Mojave poet and MacArthur Fellow Natalie Diaz read her poem, “Lake-loop,” a sensuous evocation of a sacred land in geophysical language. In “About This Poem,” Diaz writes that it reflects “the idea that this country tried to give us no space to exist, yet we made that space, and make it still …. We are tectonic, and ready.”

Poem-a-Day invites readers to select poems from its collection for a special series, “Shelter in Poems,” poems selected for consolation and uplift during this time of physical distancing and pandemic. Among this growing collection are works by Maya Angelou, Emily Dickinson, and  Mahogany L. Browne, whose performance of her poem “Black Girl Magic” was featured on the PBS NewsHour. In “Gate A-4,” Arab-American poet Naomi Shihab Nye recreates a moment of bonding among strangers and concludes, “This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.”