Beloved poets and new talents tell their stories of virus and lockdown

Thursday, 7th May 2020, 9:28 am
Updated Thursday, 7th May 2020, 9:28 am

Household names and fresh talents are lending their skills to a new international poetry project responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

Instigated by former poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, it involves the likes of Queen’s Gold Medal winners Gillian Allnutt, Imtiaz Dharker and Gillian Clarke, exciting younger poets Raymond Antrobus and Andrew McMillan, established and much-loved figures Roger McGough and Ian McMillan as well as dozens of other renowned and emerging poets.

Carol Ann Duffy in 2009 (photo: Andrew Yates/AFP via Getty Images)

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Each work reflects on the writer’s own personal experiences of the outbreak from all over the world, supporting readers in reflecting on and articulating their own feelings through the power of poetry.The initiative is led by the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University, where Duffy is creative director.

She said: “I hope that these poems 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. 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.”

The poems are presented in date order and each includes a note about where it was written. The website will be updated frequently throughout the pandemic with new contributions.

Duffy, Poet Laureate from 2009-19, has contributed several new poems, including Hands, Since You Ask and O, written in Manchester where she is based.

Contributions come from some of Britain’s most recognised and decorated poets, including Makar (Scottish Poet Laureate) Jackie Kay, and Clarke, former National Poet of Wales.

Dharker’s poem Cranes Lean In was written near The Barbican theatre in London. She said: “I was on the phone to my daughter that Sunday, 22nd of March, standing at a window looking out over the marooned city. London had stopped its eternal building and the streets and stations were becalmed.

“That was the day it suddenly came home to many mothers what this meant, this strange waiting time without their children. 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.”

Andrew McMillan, winner of the 2015 Guardian First Book Award and inaugural 2019 Polari Prize, who is Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University, has contributed, as has his father Ian, poet, broadcaster, JPIMedia columnist and host of BBC Radio 3’s The Verb.

Ian said: “At times of crisis and turbulence like these we turn to the heightened language and alphabet music of poetry because poetry can help to articulate the vortex we find oursel

ves spinning in. I’m proud to be associated with this project, which is the opposite of self-isolation.”

The project, called Write Where We Are Now, also offers an international perspective, featuring work from Moira Egan and David Tait, who wrote from within the lockdowns in Italy and China respectively. Poems can be found at www2.mmu.ac.uk/write/ site.