April is the cruellest month.
So begins T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Waste Land,” with a claim few would dispute in the year 2020. In the United States, April is also National Poetry Month, an annual celebration first organized by the American Academy of Poets in April 1996.
While working in relative isolation earlier in April, I was struck by the confluence of cruelty and celebration represented by this month, the head-on collision between life and death that we’ve all been gawking at, paused indefinitely, for weeks whose number we struggle to keep count of.
Counting, in fact, seems to be one of our primary quarantine pastimes: tallying the sick and the dead, estimating the number of ventilators still needed by hospitals, calculating how long since we’ve seen our friends, how long until we will see them again.
In hopes of capturing these feelings of ambivalence and uncertainty, as well as acknowledging the longstanding relationship between poetry and the visual arts, I asked five artists and poets—Raquel Salas Rivera, Kristina Kay Robinson, Yoon Nam, Margaret Jane Joffrion, and Mo Costello—for contributions to a small collection of poems, Nights of Measure, published this week by Burnaway. Each poem will be published individually online this week, and the entire collection is available to download as a PDF below.
In her poem “Maryam’s Refrain,” Kristina Kay Robinson quotes a passage from the Quran referring to Laylat al-Qadr, the night on which the first verses of the holy book were delivered from heaven to the prophet Muhammad. In English, Laylat al-Qadr can be translated as “night of power,” “night of destiny,” or “night of measures.” This year, coincidentally, the month of April also includes the beginning of Ramadan, the month-long commemoration of Muhammad’s first revelation observed by Muslims worldwide.
While we may not all observe this tradition, millions of people around the world are nonetheless joined together in this moment of prayerfulness, of longing, of waiting for a message, of counting. These are our nights of measure.
Click on the link below to view or download Nights of Measure, a Burnaway book of poetry.