Lockdown Journal, Hamish Wilson
Dempsey & Windle, 2021 £8.00
Poems as historical records
In extraordinary times, cultural responses are of course vital in helping us to make sense of events. Lockdown Journal contains 25 poems, one per day for twenty-five days in March and April 2020 from the first Saturday of the first lockdown in England. They record the ‘messaging’, distancing, Zooming, plane-less skies, rainbows, politics, grim reporting of Covid rates and deaths, and more. The poems are English-style sonnets; indeed, the sonnet has been resurgent during the pandemic, as if the straitening effect of Government restrictions necessitates the limitations of a metrical form.
Unsurprisingly, given the pace they were written at, Wilson’s sonnets occasionally lapse into telegram-ese or seem over-concerned with recording minutiae, but at their best they capture laconically the togetherness of his Cumbrian village. ‘Thursday, 2 April, 2020’ is especially lively:
You hold court behind the rusty railings
which you strive to paint as passers-by chat,
safe-distanced, beyond the iron palings.
The poem goes on to paint an amusing portrait: ‘Raymond / from his quad-bike is keen to know who owns / the three cars on our drive [...] / [...] He told / the Clough House buyers to ’eff off back / to London.’ Behind him, Sheila rolls // her eyes.’
The flipside of that community spirit — fear of outsiders — is also well-observed:
There is talk in Spar
of an unknown woman who has designs
on holidaying here. She needs a card
for electrics in her rented cottage
but no-one helps. ‘She brings her germs up here!’
[‘Thursday, 9 April 2020’]
Wilson’s end-rhyme inventiveness — e.g. ‘Neville’, ‘lazier’, ‘fills’ and ‘crazier’ — is matched by his willingness to tackle all aspects of the common experience. ‘Friday, 17 April, 2020’, for example, movingly explores news of celebrity Covid deaths:
Why sad for these celebs? I think we feel
we knew them. Each day, the UK death toll’s
flashed on our TV screens like a surreal
version of the weather, as if these souls
were scores of centigrade.
Chronicling everyday life, particularly when it’s turned upside-down, isn’t easy in any format. It’s even more admirable that Wilson succeeds in doing so in sonnets.