The terrible and the absurd: a Simon Armitage film-poem Where Did The World Go?

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BBC2 has screened an examination of the pandemic, using a film-poem written by the poet laurate Simon Armitage as a narrative that charts the progression of Covid, from the early rumours arriving from Wuhan to the rollout of the vaccination programme and the easing of lockdown.

The poem begins: “There was a world once, / so where did it go?”, and includes segments of poems about the pandemic that Simon Armitage has written over the past year. Talking about the project on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row programme this week, he said that he “wasn’t really prepared for how moving and sad some of the testimonies would be” when he saw the film footage.

Yet there is a place for humour too in the poetic sequence: “The pandemic’s been a terrible thing, but it’s also been absurd at times … I couldn’t help but see the comic possibilities.” There is comedy in pavement dance steps such as “the sidestep, the body swerve, the two-metre excuse-me”.

A Pandemic Poem: Where Did The World Go? features people from around the UK, each of whom offers testimony about their own experience of living through the past 18 months. Amongst the contributors are Matthew, who lost his 200-year-old family business; Andy, a pub landlord who fed thousands of people in Preston for one penny per meal; Comfort, an asylum seeker who struggled with her mental health during lockdown; and young mum Victoria, who paints a picture of the trials and hilarities of looking after young children all day and every day.





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