The quiet desperation of COVID poetry

The English are good at quiet desperation. We like things to look normal. We avoid drama. We keep our fears hidden.

So, even when COVID-19 is killing 190 people each day and our cities are being shut and our government is losing people’s trust, and the young are being quarantined from their youth and the old are held hostage in their homes and the rest of us have lost the ability to plan or control and are clinging to the illusion of coping, we still try to look normal.

Of course, most of us know that trying and succeeding are not the same thing.

I get through most days with no visible signs of stress but when I sleep, I grind my teeth and dream dreams I want to wake up from.

I wanted to see if anyone one was writing about these things or if they were too taboo to be mentioned. So I looked for poetry. Poets eat taboos for breakfast.

I found

Poetry and Covid a Project funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council, University of Plymouth, and Nottingham Trent University.

They believe that:

Poetry is always valued in times of crisis

It provides succour, a means to think through our predicaments, a way to connect. 

During the current Covid-19 pandemic, poetry has been drawn on by politicians, medics, teachers, protesters – all manner of people, in myriad guises and circumstances – in an attempt to grapple with and communicate hope, fear, loss, confusion, loneliness, heightened emotion.

So they are collecting and publishing the poems written as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

There will eventually be an anthology.

In the meantime, they’re making poems available on their website. You can find the poems HERE. Take a look and see if you find your experiences reflected in these poems. Submit a poem if you have one.

Rona Fitzgerald’s poem, ‘Safe Distance’ resonated with me. I think it captures the struggle to stay rational and calm even when there’s no firm ground to stand on. You can find more of her poems HERE, including one called ‘Lockdown’ that is also on topic.

Here’s the text of ‘Safe Distance’:

Safe Distance
By Rona Fitzgerald
The voice in my head is busy, reassuring.
But its variable – as if not enough air
is getting through.
Of course, it’s always been there, steadying
making sense of stuff – I make a great effort
not to speak out loud.
Singing helps, like in the musicals or films.
But not full songs now, ditties and lines
as if my brain is working away –
needing lots of energy to even grasp
the situation. I wear my scarf, gloves
and keep my distance.
In the queue in M&S food, a woman
is keen to chat – inching close as I squirm.
‘Do you think it’s the gulf stream?
More like global warming I say, though lovely
to have good weather in lockdown.
‘I mean the virus, she says, I saw it on TV.’
The virus is transmitted by us, I say, humans –
not the gulf stream. At the next till another woman says
she’ll try magnets in her shoes!


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