’91 days’ (Corona Virus poetry)

We all need an obligatory Corona virus poem, right? Something we made in the dark hours of lockdown. This was the best I could do after 91 days at home, scrolling social media. It felt like – and is – a stream of nonsense; but sometimes when the world isn’t making sense anyway, that can be comforting.

What I loved about seeing this piece published in Cordite Poetry Review was reading the editors’ take on it. With an experimental poem like this, it can be hard to articulate what it is doing; there’s something instinctively touched on, opened up by the play in language, but it’s still under the surface.

This poem appeared in Issue 97&98, ‘Propaganda‘, edited by two fascinating word-artists, Simon Groth and Mez Breeze. I recommend reading the whole issue, and the editors’ work too. They wrote: “This distinction—of poetry manifesting as an antithesis to propaganda—can lead to the hopeful harnessing of poesis as a counteraction agent: a salve, if not a panacea. Works such as Sarah Temporal’s ‘[91 days]’ act as a clever neutralisation of logo-spin where the reworking of form is crucial.”

I made this piece by brainstorming all the keywords I could remember dominating the discourse of my social media feeds. Words like ‘uncertainty’, ‘essential services’, ‘results’; the ‘Bill Gates’ conspiracies that leaked in; and of course all the ‘challenges’ people were amusing themselves with. I thought there’d be, maybe 6 keywords. Instead I filled pages and there were hundreds. No wonder I felt so overloaded I couldn’t write.

I used a variation on the cut-up method to detach these terms from their original context and reassemble them as a long list. I was aiming for something that would take 2 mins to read, and this helped contain the chaos. Later, I revised the piece for print, and settled on the format you see that embodies an intensification or condensing of linguistic fragments.

Experiments like this aren’t for every reader, and it’s quite possible that the author gets far more out of doing them than the beholder does from reading. But I can say with some certainty, if the world seems so unhinged that you can’t even write about it – let the world speak for itself, and then cut it up. It’ll make you feel better.