Sailing the Lockdown

It can be a real challenge to write about something such as Covid-19. By write, I mean in the context of something that is publishable. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed. There are times when I think I should be writing directly about our current situation, as if I have some kind of social duty to do so. Yet most of what I have written about Covid has been pretty marginal in terms of quality (and that’s being charitable). Thank Christ I have no chance of being poet laureate!

Part of the issue is trying to write something that is different to what everyone else is churning out. It will be interesting to see what poetry from these times lasts. I suspect, as usual, it will be the oblique poems, the ones with a very narrow focus, or the blunt political ones, (let’s face it there is plenty of subject material here to focus on!) that resonate the longest.

I did enter one of my Covid poems into this year’s Portsmouth Poetry competition. It didn’t place – which I was half-expecting. It was great to see some familiar names in the prizewinning list, including Mark Cassidy who won overall, and is an excellent poet who should have a published collection by now. Come on Faber – give him a call! As for my entry, the judges very kindly gave me some feedback, which I will share here.

Rejection is all part of the process with poetry, and any other writing for that matter. If you cannot cope with it then my advice is to not bother sending it out. Work is rejected for all sorts of reasons, and not just down to the perceived quality of what has been submitted – does if fit with the magazine, the theme of the issue, it it too similar or different to other poems already selected? It’s rare to get a reason or any specific feedback, which is why I was delighted to hear back from the competition judges.

Incidentally, I actually agree with the feedback. I had a few qualms about the poem when I sent it in – did it read as if I was trying a bit too hard? Was it a bit hackneyed in terms of imagery / subject matter? Was it just a bit meh?

Their feedback is as follows. It’s positive, it’s encouraging, but I think it nails the issues with the poem itself. Let me know your thought . Is it salvageable? As it stands it’s going nowhere near my next collection! It’s also too long for most magazines, so I may as well share it here instead!!

“Sailing the Lockdown” 

The use of the image / concept of sailing as a metaphor for the journey experience we have all undertaken is a good one. The problem with such metaphors is that they can easily become over-stretched and start to be clumsy and lose their impact. We felt that this poem ‘sails’ close to that reef, too close on occasions and sometimes tries too hard to be ‘poetic’ and meaningful. Generally, however, you avoided the pitfalls and there are some really good metaphorical concepts and some lovely poetry such as “constellations of memories” Well done 

Anyway, the poem. Still struggling with the formatting of poems on WordPress.com with my Mac, so have posted it as a quote – which I think looks a little better than the default format for poems.

Sailing the Lockdown

So we shaped our horizons
with hands made of clay,
cupping the water,
sculpting decks for the sky,
but skin kept on shedding,
kept dusting the wind,
for our hands were still clay.

Stuck here in the dry dock
as days roll by in waves,
stale tang in the air;
whether Covid or calenture,
it’s the missing that kills us
and I’m shedding my future
sick from the swell.

Light makes a filagree
in the coruscation of surf,
the roil and the surge,
the shimmer shine of shingle,
the skin pricks of spray,
and all I can do now
is sit here and wait.

Sunrises sunsets and stars;
constellations of memories
are salt scars and rope marks,
as individual as fingerprints
on these cracked hands of clay,
and now they are fading,
with every layer I shed.

Card decks are collapsing
as our horizons recede, 
clay turns to sediment
in this dissolution of days;
the ghosts of lost landfall,
we thought ours for the taking,
to till as we willed.

But someday we’ll sail,
lash pasts to the main,
fast our eyes to the storm
near-drowning in hindsight,
as our spinnakers fill;
ebb tide to a new future
from this churning of ways.

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