'A testimony to the power of poetry': Write Out Loud's Beyond the Storm anthology reviewed
As we mark a year since the start of the first Covid lockdown, Write Out Loud would like to share a heartening review of our Beyond the Storm competition anthology that has been published in the quarterly online cultural magazine London Grip.
The review by Pat Edwards, a writer, reviewer and workshop leader in Mid-Wales, describes the anthology of poems about the pandemic as “a fine record of our social history” and “testimony to the power of poetry”. She also says: “It is astonishing that there are poems in such a range of styles, form and page lay-out; surely a credit to the poetry-writing community?
"I also found it very powerful that so many people responded to the pandemic through poetry – and decent poetry at that. What doesn’t surprise me is that all the themes and topics you’d expect to find in an anthology about these times are here. There are poems about key workers, loss, lockdown, new hobbies, the absence of hugs, taking pleasure in the simple things, environmental recovery, cancelled weddings and holidays, to list just some. The impressive thing is how the poets have tackled these themes.”
There was no cash prize for our competition, which had the specific aim of raising money for the NHS Charities Together Covid-19 appeal. We had more than 2,300 entries, and we raised around £7,500.
London Grip’s editor, Michael Bartholomew-Biggs, has kindly given us permission to reproduce Pat’s review in full:
“This anthology features 100 poems from the 2,381 poems submitted to Write Out Loud’s 2020 competition judged by Andrew McMillan. Sales from the book have raised much-needed funds for NHS charities.
Andrew McMillan waived his fee for judging the competition and wisely remarked of the poems, “I hope in a decade we’ll read them again, and remember.” In that spirit, my role as a reviewer here is not so much to critique the book, but to highlight for the reader some of the stand-out work that I found particularly worthy of note.
It is astonishing that there are poems in such a range of styles, form and page lay-out; surely a credit to the poetry-writing community? I also found it very powerful that so many people responded to the pandemic through poetry – and decent poetry at that. What doesn’t surprise me is that all the themes and topics you’d expect to find in an anthology about these times are here. There are poems about key workers, loss, lockdown, new hobbies,the absence of hugs, taking pleasure in the simple things, environmental recovery, cancelled weddings and holidays, to list just some. The impressive thing is how the poets have tackled these themes.
Paul Francis makes the link between throw-away aprons and masks worn by healthcare staff and the disdain with which some staff have been treated: “I’m shed/like soiled PPE. Disposable” he writes in his second-placed poem ‘Short-term Investment’.
The agony of not being able to visit loved ones under normal conditions is captured in rhyme by Stephen W Atkinson in his poem ‘The thief of breath and hugs’:
But, one day, upon the glass she coughed
And within a circle of steam:
‘Love &Hugs Forever’ appeared
Then faded like a dream
Carole Bromley sums up the obsession with and importance of cleanliness in ‘Archive’:
These days I don’t touch anything, anyone
I go out clutching hand sanitiser
and wear gloves to open gates
With wonderful wry humour Isobel Clarke succinctly notes in her poem ‘The Year That Never Was’ that
others lost their dream
holiday to the Seychelles,
but I write from the painful rub of my own personal experience
and you can never put too high a price
on four nights in Skipton.
With so many folk forced to work from home, Mark Fiddes imagines making a few improvements when we return to the workplace. In his poem ‘When I Get Back’ he says
I will herd Human Resources into the back of a white van
and release them into the wild
In addition he declares “I will have all of Finance learn a sonnet every day.” Similarly, Oz Hardwick promises in his ‘Manifesto’,
I will tape cellophane-wrapped flowers
to park benches and railway timetables, reassess my principles, and
bring you apples, books, and new words.
Ilse Pedlar bemoans the closure of pubs in ‘All the Empty Pubs’, telling us
what remains is the faint sourness of carpets,
clocks ticking down redundantly to last orders.
Of course, an anthology of this kind has to touch on the awful loss of life and on the way the virus was winning until we started to change the balance of power with the successful development of vaccines. Brian Wake’s poem ‘Exaggerate’ really got to me with its bleak irony:
Looking back on it, or when asked were you there,
Exaggerate, say everywhere vermillion globules
spiked with yellow horns invaded everything;
our hands, our lips, the tears in our eyes.
Say thousands upon thousands died.
adding in his final stanza,
Say interaction was a telephone, say love a kiss of glass
against a screen, say millions upon millions
sort of died.
As I said before, I am not here to judge these poems again, rather to delight in them and admire the way so many of them voice what we are all feeling. Once things start to return to relative normal it would be all too easy to forget, not the sacrifices of key workers or the loss of loved ones, but the more mundane disturbances and inconveniences we have endured. This anthology stands as a fine record of our social history and is testimony to the power of poetry.”