Carol Ann Duffy launches poetry project in response to pandemic
The former poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, has launched an international poetry project with other poets including Imtiaz Dharker, Roger McGough and Andrew McMillan,in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Duffy hopes the project, WRITE Where We Are NOW, “will provide an opportunity for reflection and inspiration in these challenging times, as well as creating a living record of what is happening as seen through our poets’ eyes and ears, in their gardens or garrets”.
Her poem called ‘Hands’ was written on on 26 March. It sees her reflecting on how every Thursday, “we clap at the darkness”, and on how she can see the hands of her absent daughter “when I put my head in my own”. Another contribution from the Scottish poet takes a fiercer tone: Since You Ask sees her “Scunnered, stymied, shafted, shaded, / shat on from a great height, spaffed, spooked.” It ends: “OK, OK, OK. Onwards.”
Duffy is leading the project with Manchester Writing School, where she is creative director, at Manchester Metropolitan University. Contributors range from new and emerging poets to award-winners Raymond Antrobus and Andrew McMillan, as well as Gillian Clarke and Jackie Kay. She said: “We need the voice of poetry in times of change and world-grief. A poem only seeks to add to the world and now seems the time to give.”
In ‘Cranes Lean In’, Dharker writes of a phone call with her daughter while she looks over a London in lockdown: “Petals brush my face. / You say at last // the cherry blossom / has arrived // as if that is what / we were really waiting for.”
“That was the day it suddenly came home to many mothers what this meant, this strange waiting time without their children,” Dharker went on. “I could hear the phone calls all over the world, people separated and searching for words of hope and consolation to give each other. The words my daughter gave me were about kindnesses, and something we had both been waiting for: the cherry trees blossoming in the parks and streets of London.”
McMillan, winner of the 2015 Guardian first book award and a contributor alongside his father, Ian, said it was “really important to record as a continuing historical document the times we’re living through”.
He added: “There are some things which feel beyond language – huge numbers of deaths, untold suffering, unmanageable fear. We’re dealing with abstracts and the first instinct within that is to reach for abstracts ourselves, but abstracts don’t make for good poetry,” he said. “All I tried to do, and all I think any of us can do, is focus on something small and contained and concrete, and try to tell it that way.”
Prof Malcolm Press, vice-chancellor of Manchester Metropolitan University, called the initiative inspiring. “I am sure that these outstanding poems will voice the sentiments and feelings that many of us around the world will share,” he said. “At the same time, I am confident that these innovative and imaginative works will inspire creativity and hope."