Our document of an uncertain, unsettling, painful, frightening, uplifting time
Poetry in the time of coronavirus. Many copies of Write Out Loud’s Beyond the Storm poetry competition anthology have now been mailed out - and thanks for your enthusaistic reponses to receiving them! We have already publicised the six poems that our judge Andrew McMillan picked out, which became the focus of our People’s Vote. Grateful thanks to our video performers - BBC Casualty actors Olivia D’Lima, Kirsty Mitchell and Gabriella Leon, and emerging actors from ALRA North drama college in Wigan, Jacob Butler, Rhiannon Clements and Noah Olaoye. Now we’d like to draw your attention to our competition longlist, to the sheer breadth of the poetry featured in this anthology of 100 poems.
The Covid crisis was poetry’s moment. Suddenly it was everywhere, on TV, radio, social media, as people struggled to find a way of putting their feelings into words. Many of the poems in this anthology seem to be cries from the heart, that burst out without waiting to be questioned or mediated.
Sometimes it’s not the overall poem but individual lines that jump out at you. A burgeoning relationship cut short by Covid – “We don’t know each other well enough to miss each other” (Richelle Sushil, ‘I Can Smell The Soap’). Jonathan Humble imagining himself as Major Tom: “Planet Earth is still blue, dear David, / but it’s awfully quiet these days.” (‘Sitting in a Semi’). Belinda Bradley: “I am not allowed to visit my mother / I send her an Amazon gift voucher” (‘Mother’s Day in the time of the Coronavirus’).
Remember all this? The paramedics, and the strange blueness of the sky (Diana Cant, ‘All This’, ‘Blue’); the selfishness of supermarket shoppers (Rachael Clyne, ‘The Book of Covid’); the search for space at home (Lucy Cowles-Brooks, ‘Home Sweet Home’); the pain and cruelty of no real farewells (Janet Critchley, ‘No Goodbyes’); postponed weddings (Annette Isles, ‘Bridal’); a camper van gathering moss (Nicholas McGaughey, ‘Buying a Camper’); climbing the walls (Isabella Mead, ‘Vines’); key workers toiling through the nights, as they always do (KM Miller, ‘Unseen’); a Windrush perspective (Jenny Mitchell, ‘Caribbean Service’); drinking alone (Ilse Pedler, ‘All The Empty Pubs’); that yearning for touch (Jacqueline Pemberton, ‘I Need a Hug’); the community of a street (Patrick Taylor, ‘Wheathampstead VE Day 75’); birdsong (Lucy Wadham, ‘Lockdown Nightingale’, Jane Wentland, ‘Learning Birds By Heart’) ); imagining the future (Brian Wake, ‘Exaggerate’).
We found this poem by Anna Woodford particularly touching, uplifting, and defiantly optimistic. It’s near the end of the anthology: “Since all of this and the sun, I have fallen / in love with you again … Now I know I will be with you / and our son at the end of the world – here / in our own back yard with its little shout of colour.” (‘2020’).
The final poem in this anthology wasn’t entered for the competition at all. It was posted on Write Out Loud before we launched Beyond The Storm – but the way people reacted to Philippa Atkin’s ‘In The Time of Quiet’ made us seize on it as a source of inspiration for our competition. Its very simplicity appealed to teachers and funeral celebrants alike, as well as mental wellbeing websites, who asked to share it.
Of course, we haven’t beaten Covid yet. Ever-changing restrictions are still in place. But the ‘new normal’ doesn’t feel so strange any more – and perhaps poems about it aren’t bursting out of us in the same way as they did in those uncertain, unsettling, painful and frightening early months.
We don’t claim that this anthology is unique. Far from it. There are already a number of other Covid anthologies out there, in print and online. But this may well be one of the last, for now, at any rate. That makes the poems in this anthology that much more valuable, as a record of a time that will never come again. Not in the same way.
So, even if you’re not in this book, do consider buying a copy. Through this competition and your wonderful support we’ve already raised more than £7,500 for NHS Charities Together’s Covid-19 urgent appeal. With your help – and purchasing power – we’re determined to reach our £10,000 target. You can order a copy here