We were overwhelmed by your responses to our call out for stories written from isolation or by those experiencing marginalisation. Every entry we published was beautifully crafted, original, insightful and offered a unique window into the experience of social isolation.
Not surprisingly perhaps, the largest number of submissions came under the category of Writers at Home and in Isolation, and poetry was by far the most favoured medium. Is there something about the form, we wondered, which expresses the sense of dislocation created by being confined to our homes? Or, perhaps, it’s that the rhythm of a poem echoes the uniformity of months lived under constraint?
Individually and collectively, the stories provide a beautiful and astute social commentary on life under lockdown. Jacqueline Inglis’s story, Staying In succinctly captures the fury of those having to be shielded, while Anna Hoghton’s In Spite Of / Because Of highlights unexpected pleasures discovered when being forced to slow down and remain in one place.
Without a doubt, nature was the star of the show. Birds, blossom, and bluebells featured in many pieces, as did empty streets, clear skies, and the rare sightings of wildlife. Jane Houben’s Trespassing takes takes a much-needed escape into a spring landscape thriving on neglect. And, in a similar vein, greenery sprouts in unexpected places in Jess Bunyan’s Home Trees.
Under the theme of change, Katharine Goda’s poem, Six-Bed Student House, Available Now lyrically details the repainting of a rented house while herbs grow in lazy abundance in the garden. The Paper Nations team complimented the poem for its ‘elan’, ‘originality’ and ‘richness of narrative’.
The contrast between the gentle unfurling of spring and the frenzied world of lockdown, procurement and politicians was also a central theme in Stella Coles’ poem, Lockdown – A Visual Poem which beautifully captures the conflict. The team admired how Stella managed to explore ‘a huge theme in a very tight frame’.
One of the few prose pieces, Harry Angus’s Sunflowers, also made use of contrast, offering a complex and often comedic take on the emotional rollercoaster of living with the virus. The Paper Nations team loved Harry’s piece for its ‘honest and direct’ voice.
And the winner is…
Picking an outright winner from the entries was challenging as every entry added to our understanding of experiences of isolation. However, after much deliberation, we chose Tracy Harris’s Reminders. This short film poem, which focuses on our changing priorities through the urban environment, shows how stillness creates its own magic.
Joanna Nissel, Paper Nations’ Engagement Manager and Poetry and Series Editor of The Great Margin, said of Tracy’s entry:
“Tracy’s poetry film is beautifully paced, with a carefully crafted sense of musicality. For me, it encapsulates our shared sense of isolation during the pandemic: anxiety, the hope, and the sudden importance of micro-analysing everyday human interactions. This is contrasted by the macro — the eternal cycles of nature continuing in the backdrop.”
Other comments from Paper Nations staff noted how the film poem achieves ‘a balance of language, visuals and delivery’ which ‘captures at once the meditative and anxious qualities of lockdown.’ They added, ‘it hints at an idea of togetherness and separateness, isolation and shared experience.’