‘The Scriptstuff Lockdown Anthology’
Scriptstuff Poetry started as an open mic night in The Slate Gallery in Leamington Spa, England and has since put on spoken word poetry nights in other towns and run collaborations with other West Midlands spoken word poetry ventures. Scriptstuff also support the Warwickshire Young Poet Laureate scheme and have been shortlisted in the Saboteur Awards. One collaboration has been put on hold due to the current pandemic and, when asking ‘what do we do in the meantime?’, the idea for this anthology as born. Anyone who visited the Scriptstuff events was asked to contribute so the poets aren’t confined to the English West Midlands, one is an Australian guest. The anthology is split into a first half, second half and The Headliners – Scriptstuff’s favourite guest poets Jemima Hughes and Amanda Baker.
Mike Took kicks off with the “sacrificial, ice-breaker poem”, ‘Wrecking Ball’
‘Would Miley Cyrus fire us if she got Coronavirus?
Would we all face termination if she tried self-isolation?
Like the goons at Wetherspoons who swoon in millionaire cocoons
and tell us go and stack some shelves, and then congratulate themselves’
‘Would she clap the NHS, and then profess that nonetheless
the Tories represent success, not struggle, fear and homelessness?
No she wouldn’t. She’d inspire us. She would value and admire us.
Not just lie to us then fire us, let’s all be like Miley Cyrus.’
Wetherspoons is an English pub chain who furloughed their employees without pay and told them to take a job in a supermarket during lockdown. Thursdays became a regular night for people applaud and thank the keyworkers in the National Health Service (NHS). In some case, thanks were extended to other keyworkers and it gave some a sense of community, an opportunity to see and acknowledge neighbours. The poem tackles some of the struggles of inequality: the differences between those who could work from home in relative safety and those whose workplace shut and found themselves with financial worries. Homelessness amongst those who’d been working in the hospitality industries (such as pubs) rocketed. The poem ends on a reminder that, while someone added to the problems lockdown caused, some employers treated their employees well.
There are notes of hope elsewhere too. In Dinah Smith’s haiku
‘Bird arrow, flying far,
Bear on your beating wings
The weight of my heart’
A bird eases the weight of worry. Carl Tomlinson’s ‘Cherwell Valley Nightscape’ notes the reduction in air pollution, ‘I borrow a breath of this shining air’. The idea of nature returning is picked up on later in Amanda Peet’s ‘The Reset’
‘The earth is resetting herself,
remembering why she first started spinning.
it wasn’t for an infestation to
grow themselves out of existence,
but for forests and rivers, and finally,
finally she is healing.’
Here, humans are the virus and the pandemic is buying earth time to heal.
Ann Atkins’ poem ‘Human Shield’ is inspired by Bruno Mars’ song ‘Grenade’ about how far a lover will go to protect their partner,
‘I’m not up to being heroic. All I have to do to be your human shield,
your personal bodyguard, is organise deliveries,
bring them in and wash my hands again and again.’
It picks up on the dichotomy that most of the people being told they are heroes feel as if they are merely doing their jobs. Here the narrator feels she’s not being asked to shield her partner from a grenade but simply take a few more precautions than she would normally.
Meredith Mars’ ‘Day 53’ is about a socially-distanced visit to her mother after being stuck in lockdown with an ex,
‘We do not speak of my ex-boyfriend,
still living in the house to which I must later return –
a home where my heart no longer resides;
We do not discuss his drinking,
the fist-sized holes in my walls and doors,
or how often my hands tremble
(which is more often than they ought).
Still, I release the breath I have been holding for seven weeks.’
The visit gives the poem’s narrator a moment of respite. Domestic violence has increased during lockdown because it’s harder for victims to get out and perpetrators have more opportunity to act.
More of the poems focus on notes of hope. Stanley Iyanu’s ‘I Smell Like Popcorn’ ends, ‘If I smell like popcorn then, I’m your sense of home and/ you are my sunshine/ and bright blue skies.’ Headliner Jemima Hughes’ poem ‘Atlantic’ is a potential relationship on hold,
‘Of all the moons in the solar system,
we get to share the same one every dusk,
so we stayed out under it, night after night,
and considered the probability of “us”.
It’s been smiling up at me since we met, desperate to tell me how
he makes it feel, and I’m ready to listen to my heart.
But the irony is clearer than the waters in between.
The ocean that brought us together, will now keep us apart.’
Some of the poems make the point that they have been written from a position of relative privilege. Each poet gets a brief introduction and they acknowledge that life in lockdown has not changed much for them. They have been able to turn to creatively to express themselves and record their lives under the pandemic. Missing from the anthology are voices of those who have lost loved ones or struggling to keep or lost the roof over their heads. I strongly suspect a lot of those poems haven’t been written yet. It will take time and emotional distance before they can be written. In Scriptstuff’s Lockdown Anthology, the remit was very much an immediate personal response rather than covering all aspects of the lockdown. Each poet has achieved that in a project designed to keep a community of poets together and remind audiences that they’re not going away. That sense of community is very much present throughout.