Norman Warwick looks at LINES FROM THE LOCKDOWN collated by Eileen Earnshaw
Writing on our sister all across the arts page in The Rochdale Observer of Wednesday 13th May, Eileen Earnshaw, (seen far left with Shirley Anne Kennedy) a colleague of mine when I lived and worked in the UK, said that the lockdown has forced her to develop a greater proficiency with social media. She hadn´t, until the descent of the virus, ever wanted to do that but now sees her reinforced skill set, albeit one forced upon her, is proving a godsend. Beneath a headline proclaiming that Writers Respond To Lockdown, Eileen praised the BBC Bitesize.com that offers advice and details of everything digital, that has been a great help in enabling her to keep in touch with many fellow Rochdale writers. Being in contact with her colleagues had then led her to marvel at the different ways they have chronicled the isolation of lockdown.
She then included brief snippets from poems produced since the advent of Corona Virus, and Sidetracks & Detours and readers of this page can find them in full on the all across the arts blog page. Amongst the half dozen or so treasures you will find there is a poem by Ray Stearn.
After many years working with children in Rochdale Central Library as librarian, storyteller, educator and facilitator Ray is accepted by the Borough as an authentic Rochdalian despite now residing in Halifax in his retirement. I worked in a fairly close synergy with Ray before I retired, at more or less the same time, to Lanzarote. We both like a play on words, Ray and I, and would serve them by the punnet full when working with young writing groups, whether we were working under the auspices of the Rochdale Borough Library Service, or my own group of Just Poets or Ray´s facilitation group, called Can O´ Worms. The poem by Ray that Eileen has included in her collection is called The Colour Of Isolation. Eileen brilliantly and accurately describes it as being ´filled with both irony and verbal-slapstick humour.´
For my part, I adore the fact that the poem opens with a line about ´a comb-over of bananas´ that is surely one of literature´s great creative collective nouns. That the fruit lies in a bowl, and that line is repeated to close the piece sees it serve as a parenthesis that has us wondering whether we perceive colours in different hues in these days of an invisible virus. Ray´s humour sheds light on lockdown days but he never seeks to deny the darkness of our times. Nevertheless, he trips the light fantastic with Eileen on our cover picture.
Michael Higgins, like both Eileen and Ray, an occasional contributor to Sidetracks & Detours, has also seen a poem collated into the piece, with his Happiness Is. This a poem that appoints Chaucer as a good read during lockdown days and this, in and of itself is a good thing in that it directs people to high, if occasionally bawdy, art. The joy of the poem, though, is in how Michael leaves no turn un-stoned in his barbed asides about other writers. The poem closes with a beautifully crafted four line piece about what man yearns, and indeed about the nature of yearning in these times.
Some of the poems Eileen reflected on in her article were submitted by people who had attended her on line workshop for the Weaving Words creative writing group. One such poem was produced by Susan Gash, a lady I don´t think I knew when I worked in the area. I don´t remember her name if so, but If I did know her and she remembers me then let me apologise here, in advance. I wish I´d known her, as her piece is what Eileen calls a ´poignant little poem´ about searching for happiness. Actually Susan´s poem is also a wise, if lengthy, aphorism and includes the sage advice that rather than chase happiness all over the place, we should instead stand still so that it can find us ! Good writing will always lead a reader down unexpected Sidetracks and Detours, and this recalled an old football adage that Mr. Proctor, my PE teacher repeat as a mantra more than fifty years ago, advising me I would be better to stand still and wait for the ball to come my way, rather than chase it all over the park and then be too tired to do anything with it should I catch it.
Eileen has included a couple of her own poems on the blog post and these are both looking to nature for inspiration on how to survive the lockdowns. Her work includes some wonderful internal rhymes such as ´the chicks hatched, safe, at last´ in her poem The Easter Gift. Note how those commas at either side of the word ´safe seem to protect it, creating of it a haven. There is more music to her poetry by way of ´the tick tock of the mantel clock´ in her second piece, Silence, which brilliantly, if painfully, echoes our current emptiness and fear.