Essential Exercise

By Jean Atkin

In this sunnier, odder spring with louder
birdsong, sweeter lanes and tall
blue skies unstreaked by planes

the bicycle carries me with all
its old swiftness, answers the ask
of a leaned corner, flicks its jink around a grid.

For an hour in each slow day I’ve been
out cycling quiet roundabouts, freewheeling
down these potholed weeks of death.

I’ve been waving to more cyclists now
than cars. Though once, there was a bin lorry,
and I lapped it, felt my lungs at work.

Thursday, and a swallow skims a fence,
gauges precisely its distance from my wheels.
Ambulances pass. Key workers work and set

aside their fears. They labour through this spring’s
long hours, high rent, low pay – the poverty trap.
At eight o’clock, on our doorsteps, we’ll all clap.

Jean Atkin, poetry and covid

Jean Atkin’s latest collection is ‘How Time is in Fields‘ (IDP, May 2019).  Her poetry has featured on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Ramblings’ with Claire Balding, and recent work appears in The Rialto, The Moth, Lighthouse and Agenda.  In 2019 she was Troubadour of the Hills for Ledbury Poetry Festival, and BBC National Poetry Day Poet for   

I live in Shrewsbury, and wrote the poem during lockdown, in a strange state of alarm, anxiety, and awareness of my own relative good fortune – which turned steadily, as the Thursdays passed, to a real anger with our government for its hypocritical treatment of low-paid and low-status ‘key’ workers.  As a poet in community and education I work(ed) regularly in care homes and schools, and I’ve been keeping in touch with people I know there who’ve been affected by PPE shortages, high levels of exposure to the virus and confused public messaging, kind people  who have become exhausted and overwhelmed by this pandemic.  Things need to change.

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3 years ago

I love this, the rhythm is perfect to keep it balanced between light and dark. It’s personal but also universal.

3 years ago

What a beautiful piece of writing. I like the strange mix of hope and trepidation that runs under the words – it perfectly encapsulates how lockdown felt for me too.

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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