A Different Distance

A Renga
“As a time capsule for the pandemic, A Different Distance captures how healing it can be to hold each other close in times of distress.”—NPR MORNING EDITION
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An Indie Next Selection, selected by booksellers

In March 2020, France declared a full lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Shortly thereafter, poets and friends Marilyn Hacker and Karthika Naïr—living mere miles from each other but separated by circumstance, and inspired by this extraordinary time—began a correspondence in verse.

Renga, an ancient Japanese form of collaborative poetry, is comprised of alternating tanka beginning with the themes of tōki and tōza: this season, this session. Here, from the “plague spring,” through a year in which seasons are marked by the waxing and waning of the virus, Hacker and Naïr’s renga charts the “differents and sames” of a now-shared experience. Their poems witness a time of suspension in which some things, somehow, press on relentlessly. Between “ten thousand, yes, minutes of Bones,” there’s cancer and chemotherapy and the aches of an aging body. There is grief for the loss of friends nearby and concern for loved ones in the United States, Lebanon, and India. And there is a deep sense of shared humanity, where we all are “mere atoms of water, / each captained by protons of hydrogen, hurtling earthward.”

At turns poignant and playful, the seasons and sessions of A Different Distance display the compassionate, collective wisdom of two women witnessing a singular moment in history.

Publish Date
8.5 × 5.5 × 0.5 in
6.7 oz

Marilyn Hacker

Marilyn Hacker is the author of fourteen books of poems, including Blazons and A Stranger’s Mirror (longlisted for the 2015 National Book Award), a collaborative book, Diaspo/ Renga, written with Deema K.


Karthika Naïr

Karthika Naïr is the coauthor of A Different Distance. She is a poet, fabulist and librettist whose books include The Honey Hunter, illustrated by Joëlle Jolivet.

Praise and Prizes

  • “When France instituted lockdown rules at the start of the pandemic, Hacker and Naïr — both Paris residents — preserved a sense of community by writing a renga to capture the ordinary and ominous days.”


    Gregory Cowles
    New York Times Book Review
  • “As a time capsule for the pandemic, A Different Distance captures how healing it can be to hold each other close in times of distress.”

    NPR Morning Edition
  • “[These poems are] briskly alive, and listening responsively to one another. They contain the energy of their moment, and the pleasure of spontaneous verbal interaction … Distinctly personal moments and moods are caught by each poet ‘just for a rainbow while’ as Naïr memorably puts it. Even though intertextuality is highlighted, their voices are enjoyably distinct.”

    Carol Rumens
  • “Exquisite … Of the many books written during and about the pandemic, this deserves to be a classic.”


    Kim Fay
    Electric Literature
  • “This unique and lovely volume of correspondence between two friends in France, who are also poets, is based on the ancient Japanese practice of renga, or ‘linked verse.’ In this collaboration, Hacker and Naïr alternate stanzas that focus on their lives in the pandemic; themes include aging, illness and loss as well as compassion, community and unity.”

    Ms. Magazine, “Great Reads for Fall”
  • “The two authors offer both a useful reconceptualization of distance and an ode to friendship. Hacker and Naïr bring wisdom and empathy to a challenging historical moment in these rich and thoughtful pages.”

    Publishers Weekly
  • “The poems bear witness to what many people experienced, cities shut down and radical changes to daily life … This book of poetry preserves a written record of the shared human experience COVID-19 forced upon us, forever altering our lives.”

  • A Different Distance marks the pandemic era with rich complexity and without any voyeurism, capturing the exact temporality of this durational crisis. I hope that future readers will return to this work for years to come to understand something not only of isolation, but also to learn about seasons, time of day, and about how one can summon presence even in the long absence of another.”

    Megan Fernandes
    The Poetry Foundation’s “Harriet Books” Blog
  • “[A Different Distance] skillfully transports us back into those vestiges of beauty, devastation, confusion, and shared grief we all experienced and witnessed in March 2020 … I can’t help but imagine that this renga practice between Hacker and Naïr provided some relief, consistency, and comfort to the poets during those early, difficult days. As I read, comfort it certainly did provide.”

    Shalini Rana
    The Arkansas International
  • “A renga naturally lends itself to a spare profundity, and in Hacker and Naïr’s able hands … the enormity of the poets’ emotions and experiences are deeply rendered and strike so very close to home, as intended.”

    Angela María Spring
    Washington Independent Review of Books
  • “Two writers and friends, both translators of words, of movement, of motion itself, find themselves separate from each other in a city under lockdown, their own bodies isolated, the public world around them, the streets of Paris, emptied. In sinuous couplets they begin a correspondence, not merely a correspondence but a renga, a linking, an attempt at building a community, at recording a history, at imagining a future of touch again. Hacker’s sublime handling of form, rhyme, and couplet is already legendary, and Naïr, with a subtle and dazzling choreographic sense of structure, meets her as the perfect partner.”

    Kazim Ali
  • “As a poetic genre, the renga seems to always ask us: How could a poet write a poem alone? In times of global upheaval, the question becomes even more persistent and urgent. In response, Marilyn Hacker and Karthika Naïr offer us another example of the glory and necessity of poetic collaboration. Writing back and forth to each other, responding to the echoes of their unique music, they stitch together our tattered world with compassion, friendship, and exquisite artistry. A Different Distance is a wonder of a book.”

    Khaled Mattawa
  • ““The dearth, in my two lands/of roses for all the graves” so begins this deeply moving account of two major poets’ determination to overcome the deafening silence and distance of Paris’s Covid lockdown. This masterful sequence takes up the ancient renga form, with its covenant of sharing. Written over the course of a year, it explores not only the interiority of quarantine and Karthika’s struggle with cancer, but resolutely opens out towards the world. In this record of a year when “with or without our selfhood” each tried to survive, A Different Distance affirms that the miraculously healing art of poetry can even arise from such conditions—essential and new.”

    Ellen Hinsey