Student poems during COVID-19: “Pandemic Spring”

In the weeks since they had to leave MIT, the students in my Poetry Writing Workshop have done some of the finest work of the semester. Ed Barrett noticed the same thing. It turns out that stress, uncertainty, fear, confinement, isolation and discomfort still, after centuries of human suffering, lead writers to write. As one student noted, “Poetry has the ability to both fix that which is fleeting and collapse our familiar notions of what we thought was stable.” Here is a brief sampling of poems from Pandemic Spring. Ed and I are deeply grateful to the students who agreed to share their work.

—Erica Funkhouser, Lecturer, Comparative Media Studies/Writing


By Vanessa Wong (21W.771)

angered, she sits on her haunches
brushing her matted fur and
counting down the
days, minutes, seconds until she ventures outside.
everything is precocious and titillating and taunting.
freesias bloom and vacillate in the breeze,
growing more tempting by the
hour as the sun’s rays move from east to west. she is
intimately familiar with the light and imagines the
journey she would take: the sun a chariot, herself
kept on a
loose leash – realistic freedom – with a
mother close in tow. after all, she can
navigate her surroundings blind.
oak, tile, bamboo and cement
parse her territory into neat geometries but paws on
quay are her deliverance. finally outside, she
roams the grassy latitudes and
socializes with the sagebrush and rabbits
that are wild in array. tabular symmetries would be
unusual in this landscape but the
void of such mechanical instruments is a
welcome change to her owners’ fixation on
xeric indoor climates and pixelated
zealous adventures she awaits.


By Maisha M. Prome (21W.762)

Rain drums, thrums on the rooftop
To a beat that overtakes the one that keeps me alive
And then slowly sings me to sleep at my desk
Tomorrow maybe, I’ll finally get up from the desk
Still can’t go outside but we can go to the rooftop
To look at the sky and remember that it’s good to be alive
All those years when the city was alive
And yet we sat still and studied, glued to the desk
Only the rain knows reason as it rinses the rooftop

“things to do in quarantine”

By Olivia Phillips, Harvard (21W.771)

sleep in since you can’t go out let your body decide what time the
day begins with a cup of tea settle into breakfast and spoon the
morning news down your throat while the kettle boils again
because you’ll need more caffeine if you mean to survive all

of the nothing on your to do list hanging hostile on the wall

paint on your eyebrows so you recognize yourself in the glass but
not the mascara that you know you won’t want to remove (though
you’ll have plenty of time) when it’s late and your eyes are closing
like every door and window in this necessary cell

pace the hallway lap the table tread the carpet cross the threshold
into insanity or (worse) apathy and turn to start again slowly tiptoe
towards the kitchen sinking feeling filling space in the stomach
you wish was as empty as this gray monotonous day full of
ambiguous unfulfilled hungers and unsatiated longings

scour room by room for hook or loom or else (to still shaking
hands) thread a needle and fill the fabric with enough stitches so
mind stops unraveling in panic and tangling in paranoia

curse the dullness call home light the fuse let the countdown linger
hang up just before detonation run for cover savor the
but only until realizing your haven too is home to a
grenade so run to find higher ground crawl deeper into the fissure of yourself

find the silver linings in the bullets piercing bone and marrow:
though your mind is a warzone the house has never been cleaner if
you get sick at least you’ll have an excuse not to eat dinner saving
money on gas means you can afford your therapy copays you
never were the biggest fan of social interaction anyway


By Patricia D. Gao (21W.762)

What if I just want to be
In the same room as you?
Keeping up conversations
Is not my strong suit, I am better at
Breathing when I hear you breathe
Typing at my laptop while you’re
Biting your pen and flipping pages
Or scrolling through your phone
Laughing occasionally
You’d ask to open my window
As it’s gotten too hot
I’d stretch out on the carpet
If I needed a break
Silence on a video call means
It’s time to hang up
But if you were here
We’d have the kind of silence
One would never want to leave.
My friendship with you
Is better side by side, not
face to face.


By Merryn Daniel (21W.762)

The paper’s edge is sharp beneath soft fingertips; my foot
shakes, toes hitting the trim though
This highlighter lid’s click satisfies me for a second –
Desk; cursor twitch; hand finds another pen; legs cross;
Lips find coffee cup (oh it’s empty) new tab; glance outside
I’ve been holding my breath – (exhale) open phone;
Close it
 is that an ant or just a piece of dirt?
next song; pop knuckles; cut fingernails.

“An Index for the Time Being”

By Jia Hui Lee (21W.771)

Afterword; Antecedent; Apocalyptic;
Before; Beginning; Black (Hole); Boomer; Brunch (I can’t remember the Last one); Bygone;
Climate Change; Counterfactuals (If Bernie had won); Covid-19; Cyclical!;
Debut; Decay (Institutional); Dimension; Distance (see Social; Physical; Emotional);
Eclipse; Emergency; Emotional (Distancing); End of an; Era;
Feverish; Fleeting; Foreseeable?; Foreshadow of a; Forever (see Timeless);
Galactic; Gallivant (I miss it so); Gathering (no larger than 10); Generations; Geological;
Hole (see Black, Worm, Threshold); Horizontal (movement of Time); Horology; Hysteria;
Immediate; Incessant; Infectious; Intermission; Irruption (see Covid-19);
Jeffersonian; Julian; Jurassic (Period, not Park); Just in Time;
Karma (see Cyclical!); Keep (Time but it, too, Fleets);
Last (Time, as in Goodbye); Late; Late Capitalism; Left Behind; Lethargy;
Maritime; Meantime; Millennial; Minute (as in Small); Moon;
Nether; Never; None; Now (if not when?);
Occult (as in Event, not Practice); Often; Old (but Young at Heart);
Past (as in Tense); Physical; Post-; Postponed; Pre-; Prolong;
Quadrennial (see Postponed); Quaint; Quarantine (as in Forty Days); Queer (as in Resilient);
Racist; Rebirth; Relativity; Repeat (Twice); Resurrect (and Repeat); Rest; Retreat;
Science (Fiction); Second (as in Not First); Singularity; Social (Distance); Syn/Chronic;
Threshold; Time (Being, Passing, Moving); Timeless; Today; Tomorrow;
Ultimate (see Last, Zenith);
Vortex; Vigilante; Viral;
Warp (as in Let’s Do the Time Warp Again!); Worm (see Hole); Wrinkle (in Time);
X (as in 10, see Gathering); Xenophobic (Times);
Year; Yearn for; Yesterday;
Z (as in Generation); Zenith; Zombified.

Erica Funkhouser

About Erica Funkhouser

Erica Funkhouser's book-length poem, Post & Rail, was the recipient of the 2017 Idaho Prize. She has also published several books of poetry with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Her poem on Annie Oakley, "Sure Shot," was adapted for the stage and produced by the Helicon Theatre Co. in LA. Another poem on Sacagawea led to her involvement with Ken Burns's PBS documentary on the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Nation, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and other magazines. You will find one of her poems sand-blasted into the wall of the Davis Square subway station in Somerville, MA. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in Poetry. Her essay, "One Salt Marsh, One Hawk, One Swimmer," appears in Harvard Review #49. In January of 2017, Musiqa, a new music collective in Houston, debuted "The White Album," by Mark Kilstofte, in which four poems have been set to music. One of them is Funkhouser's "Here," from PURSUIT. Her website is


Share this Post