Poetry review – PANDORA’S PANDEMIC: Sue Wallace-Shaddad considers Alwyn Marriage’s honest but hopeful poetic account of life in a time of covid-19
Pandora’s Pandemic Alwyn Marriage SPM Publications ISBN 978-1-9162263-7-1 www.spmpublications.com 58pp £8.00
This collection, very much of its time, presents the coronavirus pandemic as experienced by the poet and those around her. Marriage has a strong sense of narrative and builds a complete picture by noting everyday details. Many aspects of life that people took for granted were up-ended by covid restrictions and Marriage’s poems provide a reminder and record of this.
A good poem to mention first has a particularly apt title: ‘Wrong place, wrong time / or Where did I catch It?’ Marriage describes visits to different venues (Arts club, cheap hotel, literary festival) but comes to the conclusion: ‘so yes, we could have caught it anywhere.’ The second half of this poem compares this mystery to something we must assume as being equally arbitrary: pigeon droppings landing on a woman’s head as she walks along.
The collection has themes which loop back and repeat, much as covid lockdowns have been imposed again and again. ‘My new friends’ tells us of the helpfulness of neighbours and strangers
who wave and call a friendly greeting, wish me well and wouldn’t dream of invading my virus-free space
In the poem ‘Pass it on’, Marriage takes the idea of this new friendliness further. She suggests that if people
were to offer the same to at least one other person today, the world would very quickly become a better place.
In the first lockdown, people clapped on their doorsteps every Thursday to show support for the NHS. This social phenomenon is described in quite a political poem ‘Thursday evening’:
Maybe in our hearts we harbour a belief that this cacophony might reach thick ears of politicians […]
We may associate lockdown very much with solitude but the poem ‘Isolation’ shows the exact opposite. Here a widow, who lives on her own, benefits from ‘compassion’ and ‘friendliness’ which
have brought kindly visitors to her gate to chat, and inspired others to ring
‘The day visit’ reminds us of how important touch is to well-being. Two people meet, keeping to all the rules of social distancing but then ‘shared a hug, more powerful than words, so warm and close’.
In ‘Out of the Wind’ the poet goes on a ‘permissible walk’. I was struck by the reference to ‘corona-length hair’. People who have gone through lockdown will immediately recognise that this refers to the fact that, for months, visiting a hairdresser was not permitted. These two words have a wealth of meaning behind them.
The language in this collection is plain and unadorned; it represents the sharing of honest feelings which do not need embellishment. Marriage deals with the very difficult subject of her own illness and slow recovery in a number of poems. ‘Same Person’ is a haunting poem showing ‘the ravages of coronavirus’ on her body as she compares photographs ‘just a year apart but separated / by our modern plague’. In ‘From my sickbed’, the repetition of almost the same words in each stanza works well to describe her feelings of exhaustion and lassitude. This is reinforced by the spacing of lines at the end of the poem:
lay back down again .
The poet also shares the death of her brother in ‘My brother’s death day’. Very poignantly, her brother died on the date of her late father’s birthday.
Did something deep inside your medically-induced sleep recognise the date and chose this day to die?
Another difficult aspect of lockdown for many was the impossibility of saying a proper goodbye to loved ones — funerals were often put online. ‘Cremation in a time of lock-down’ reminds us of the starkness of this situation but still manages to find a silver lining:
I was free to cry, without the need to hide my grief from other members of the congregation […]
The poem ‘3 ply’ discusses fear of ‘catching the disease / or of too much loneliness to bear’ alongside the simple happiness for some of being at home and close to nature. There is a beautiful image in its final lines
Maybe the rope of life has always woven these threads in subtle harmony, without our noticing.
In the poem ‘Pandora’s Pandemic’, Marriage highlights ‘anger’, ‘disapproval’, ‘cheating’, ‘loneliness’, ‘depression’ and ‘despair’ as aspects of this period but suggests there is still ‘Hope’. She considers that this might lead either to ‘unrealistic expectations’ or remind us
that how the world was when the virus snapped the string of normal life, need not determine how it will be when we are free. ‘
Dream on’ is a ‘before’ and ‘after’ poem. It is remarkable that Marriage, despite everything, still finds the positive: ‘most of the time we were content’ but she also asks whether in future ‘would all that we had gained be lost again’.
The collection ends on a note of hope in ‘Remembering covid’:
but in our hearts we kept the hope alive that in a future not too far away, life would return to something more like normal.
These poems are a strong testament to all that the poet lived through and remind us of what is important going forwards.