– Written by Hannah Ledlie –
If you have an interest in poetry and have spent much time online lately, you’ve probably noticed the emergence of a new ‘genre’ referred to by some as ‘quarantine poetry’. These are pieces typically characterised by nostalgia, yearning, unease, a renewed appreciation of nature, and other themes resulting from our sudden collective isolation. Some have responded to this kind of writing with light-hearted cynicism. Twitter users have dryly joked that 2021’s key arts events such as the Edinburgh Fringe will be entirely composed of one-man-shows set in quarantine, or kitchen sink dramas about couples struggling with cabin fever. The insinuation being: we’re all here, we’re all experiencing the same problems, we don’t need to be reminded of it.
I can understand this response and have complete sympathy for anyone avoiding ‘quarantine content’ due to its sometimes stressful nature. However, I do think it’s important that writers bear witness to current events, creating time capsules for us to look back on. Already, some are falling victim to a kind of cognitive dissonance, thanks in large part to governments and their media attempting to sweep grim realities about the handling of the virus under the rug. I would argue one of the best ways to combat this, and ensure the lessons learned in this time are not forgotten, is through literature. That is why for the first instalment of this series, I’ve chosen to share what is very much a ‘quarantine poem’.
Beth Calverley is a poet from Bristol and founder of The Poetry Machine: an ongoing project where she co-creates poems with community members on her manual typewriter. Calverley is also co-host of the celebrated Bristol spoken word night, Milk Poetry, and Poet in Residence at UHBW NHS Foundation Trust. It is safe to say Calverley is playing a key role in promoting poetry beyond existing arts communities, brilliantly harnessing its therapeutic value. This is the case with her recent piece, ‘Love Letter’, a collaboration with musician Bethany M. Roberts and animator Max Phillips, in which she writes to NHS staff.
The piece gently rejects oversentimentality or jingoism, and instead radiates tenderness and awe. Roberts’ wordless chants and Phillips’ pulsing visual representation of the piece’s sound combine to form something quite hypnotic. As well as acting as a thank you to the NHS, the poem captures the uniquely strange mix of emotions we are collectively experiencing in this moment: gratitude and powerlessness, fear and hope. It is a love letter today, but perhaps could act as a historical record in years to come.