The epigram for this collection of sonnets is a quotation from Alfred Cosby's The Forgotten Pandemic: The Influenza of 1918: "Nothing else--no infection, no war, no famine--has ever killed so many in as short a period." Speaking in many different voices, Ellen Voigt evokes the great epidemic through the eyes and experience of various Americans--a soldier, his fiancée, orphaned children, a doctor, and a host of grieving family.

The infection is quick and ruthless. "Within the hour the awful cough began, / gurgling between coughs, and the fever spiked . . . / Before a new day rinsed the windowpane, / he had swooned. Was blue." (p. 22) Doctors were out on the road working day and night to no avail: "it didn't matter which turn the old horse took: / illness flourished everywhere . . . " (p. 38) Soon, coffins were scarce: "With no more coffins left, why not one wagon / plying all the shuttered neighborhoods, / calling for the dead, as they once did . . . " (p. 53) At last, the influenza receded: " . . . at the window, / every afternoon, toward the horizon, / a little more light before the darkness fell." (p. 55)


Ms. Voigt's sonnets are innovative, clear, and compelling. At the end of this collection (pp. 77-78), the poet provides a capsule prose summary of the "forgotten pandemic." The influenza (called "Flanders Fever" in Germany) attacked 90% of the American soldiers at Dunkirk in May 1918. It quickly spread around the world. By September and October 1918 there were literally millions of cases in the United States, with up to 700 deaths on a single day in Philadelphia. In various states there were emergency public health regulations that forbade shaking hands, or required people to wear masks on public transport. By March 1919 the pandemic had killed more than 25 million people around the world.


Kyrie was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.


W. W. Norton

Place Published

New York



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