#12: Only connect

As lockdown in England continues, so does our global poetry community, Try to Praise the Mutilated World. The prompts are here every day, and free. Access to our Facebook workshopping group costs £10, and lasts for the duration of the lockdown. The group is a place for mutual feedback, and is private so that your work in progress is unpublished. We have guest readers via Facebook Live on a Sunday – the next one is Forward Prize-winning Malika Booker. Join us at any time through November. See the PayPal button at the bottom of this post.

Kathleen Jamie’s poem, The Way We Live, celebrates what Macneice called ‘the drunkenness of things being various’ – that vivid, unequal mix of good and bad in daily life. The poem’s meaning has changed for me since March: say what you like about lockdown, but it does reduce the chances of death by avalanche. The barmen and waitresses are on furlough; the airports and motorways are quieter than ever before, and we know much more now about ‘waking to uncertainty’. The pandemic is building a distinctive culture of absence and disconnection.

Still, we can and must find ways to talk to each other. Today, I ask you to connect to someone who lives in a different place or time. You’re a poet, for goodness’ sake. There are no walls you can’t see through. Look across your city, country, planet. Find someone to connect with, and write to that person. Think of it as a message in a bottle, a dispatch smuggled out from behind the Covid frontline; a broadcast from the Virus Resistance Brigade.

Who will pick it up? A drag queen with no stage to perform on; a medievalist locked out of the archives, dreaming of Charlemagne; a New York apartment-dweller, his city becalmed after a lifetime of hectic noise; a refugee making his way across the Channel on a makeshift raft; or someone for whom lockdown is a blessed relief from responsibility. Some are desperate or bereaved. Others are taking up fishing, doing DIY, making love until noon. Cancer, childbirth and the family dinner go on, in spite of everything. A terrible beauty is born, as Yeats wrote of a different crisis entirely.

What is changed, since Covid came to town? What endures? Somewhere in the Amazon, there are communities which know nothing of all this. Will your message be airdropped to them, or will it be blasted into space in an Elon Musk satellite for a different audience? Send a tumbling Text Message full of scrambled thoughts about what life brought today – or write to the only person that matters, and call them home. Use your title to take some weight out of the poem itself: ‘Broadcast from 122 Brook Street’ or ‘Message thrown from my window in a time of plague’, or ‘To the residents of this house, one hundred years from now.’

Then write. Don’t think too hard. Allow yourself to drift off topic; by all means, rant about the broken dishwasher as well as the broken world community. If you are bored or scared or furious, let it show. Reassure or confess; ask how to put a shelf up straight. Give some thought to the ending of your poem. Do you want to sound cheerful, cry for help or leave this episode open-ended? Will you enclose a gift? Now – would you care to leave a message?

Join our Facebook workshop group

Join our closed Facebook group at any time in November, for feedback from other poets and access to weekly readings. Pay £10 by PayPal below, then find Try to Praise the Mutilated World on Facebook and ask to join (use the link in the first paragraph above). We are already 300 strong and there’s a lively, friendly community helping each other to write their way through the lockdown.


Published by Jo Bell

Poet, boater, archaeologist and former director of the UK's National Poetry Day. One third of @OnThisDayShe. Erstwhile UK Canal Laureate.

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