Ode: the little lockdown: a synthetic mediation

4 pina Bausch & the chicks

By Robert Hampson

we measure the event in terms of droplets
we develop an app. place
ambiguous lumps of flesh on the table
we begin to understand the microwave oven
though these things are elusive
we watch them come back to life

coughing all night / & panting
waiting for the barrage / & the flare of gas
world wars make / poor comparators
when the minister / misuses the statistics
we embrace all that this entails
maybe 10 songs / was not such a good idea

a midnight dance through the castle gardens
a choir with polar bears on an ice-floe
a best-selling paperback of the pandemic
a plague of locusts in America
an earth fit for filming
(set sometime in the past)

the cruise ship left in 1995, bound for the former Confederate states, Hawaii & Polynesia with guest-lecturers along for the ride. to begin with everything went to plan: slides were shown, questionnaires handed out, CDs were burned

heavy logging in the Amazon
immense fires in Siberia
& a virus in the editing suite
a maverick geographer
offers independent help & advice

you never know with dancers
dancers move & usually get things right
(it’s the dance that matters)
It’s a nice standard star
with a self-regulating system
it’s an engineer’s dream of music
new species flourish
all we are is a food supply

I can think of a lot worse workplaces. We had 3 good meals per day, a woman at night, & sunbathing on the back-deck.

a lone dancer in a darkened room. 350 forms of exhaustion in the way of entertainment.

something along the lines of: is this covid-19?
tracing contacts is like going back to high school
one of them says: you’ve become a big thing now in our world
I felt we were being institutionalised
trying to work out which way to go
one of them says: so audit me. go find a ship.
next stop: Tahiti
we tried to negotiate with ports for access
we were dubbed traitors
we even got banned from the radio
our future was stolen from us

it was a story about a town council
they consulted walked around
built new housing on brown-field sites
the entire affair was psychogenic
to contain social unrest
the terrible harvest of a generation

it was the story of a local girl
doomed to dance until she dropped
it was a story of insistent daubings
& herbal highs

they did not know they were susceptible

it was the smell of the plague
it was the kicking-off point
for art & music

all we needed / was a bit of money
to develop a detector

all we wanted / was to fill the gaps
to break the line / of transmission

all we wanted / was a precise measure

some got to play bingo & see shows. when they learned the medication was running out, they made their own creative choices: stoic, angry, sorrowful. the stars followed suit & became more intense

they said: let’s get on. let’s build it all up in some way. We’re just one big happy family really

she invited them to perform. she wanted them to be Dutch, Germans, Americans. We said: this could be a pretty handful of entertainers

used & abused by everybody, we were good to go. No-one on board got locked into their cabins. she kept us up-to-date through video-conferencing.

I began to explore the ode as a form about a year ago as a break from sonnets. (I have been working with the sonnet form for some years now – since at least the poems of reworked disasters (kfs, 2013) and more recently in blood moon and earthborn(e). The first followed the strict Greek form; more recently they have become freer. My wife and I have been locked down since March 6, and I have been looking for an appropriate form for these changed circumstances. I have been writing letters to newspapers and to my MP, and the ode seemed an appropriate form to explore a public voice and public language. This is one of a sequence of odes I have been writing: they are based on the experience of enclosure as a given (the space capsule, the Mars colony, the White House, marriage) and they draw on (and draw in) current events.  

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Poetry and Covid-19 ARCHIVE (This website archives the over 1000 poems submitted by over 600 poets, and viewed by over 100,000 from over 125 countries during the Covid-19 pandemic, June 2020-June 2021). Thank you to all who took part in the Poetry and Covid project.

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