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This review is taken from PN Review 262, Volume 48 Number 2, November - December 2021.

Cover of Fleet
Rory WatermanPandemix

Michèle Roberts, Quarantine (Melos Press) £5
Paul O’Prey, Fleet (Melos Press) £5
Kat Payne Ware, The Live Album (Broken Sleep) £6.50
Briony Collins, Blame it on Me (Broken Sleep) £6.50
Several editors have grumbled to me over the past year and a half about the proliferation of Covid poems. A million poets, it seemed, sat to write about the first lockdown as it happened, and Michèle Roberts was one of them. Back then, and though I expected them to try, I wondered whether poets would have much to say: pandemics, especially when they seem to have a fairly comparable likelihood of affecting anyone, rarely prove fertile ground for poetry. Spanish flu probably killed more people than the Great War that preceded it; find me an anthology of Spanish flu poems.

Roberts succeeds through a blend of subjectivity and objectivity, as well as brevity and precision – or rather through idiosyncrasy coupled with a knack of memorably giving voice to things so many of us shared. She almost makes me nostalgic. Against a backdrop of restrictions – ‘government ads / barking Stay at Home’, leaning ‘on my area of railings’ – we are presented with the small world effect of lockdown, the sudden and otherwise glorious British spring of 2020 during which ‘the clematis hurtles / – a blooming miracle – / out of the rosebush’ and petals ‘open like hands / defenceless, generous’, the street that ‘empty of traffic / turns inside out / becomes our meeting-room’, the lucid dreams so many people have reported. The following incongruous lines surprised me rather until I realised they belonged in that context:
Already I’ve watched my dentist
 – rugby player in cool blue scrubs –    
hurl himself face down
on his spreadeagled naked ...

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