100 poets from around the world join to write collective lockdown poem

100 poets from around the world join to write collective lockdown poem
Still from Airborne Particles

7 September 2020

One hundred poets from around the world have joined forces to write a collective poem during lockdown. Initiated by Romanian writer Ioana Morpurgo, Airborne Particles is a renga — a poem written collaboratively by poets from Croatia, Serbia, Albania, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Latvia, Poland, as well as the US, the UK, Turkey, Greece, India, Singapore, Mexico, Japan, and other countries.

Morpugo emailed poets she knew, had read, or was recommended by other poets, who, one by one, added lines to the existing poem in English. The poets then also translated the final text into other languages. The video shows the poets reading their lines out, from their own homes, where they spent their quarantine.

Beginning with Serbian poet Milan Dobričić’s lines on solitude, the rest of the poem’s verses are populated by the hum of wifi routers, water pipes, spiders caught between window panes and other domestic paraphernalia, as well as joy and dreams of the outside world.

Three of the total of five video readings have been published so far.

Airborne Particles

“In me, around me, for me – solitude, unavoidable.

Wanted, no matter dead or alive – wanted alone.” (Milan Dobričić)

“Don’t surrender your loneliness

So quickly.

Let it cut more deeply.” (Hafiz, C14th Persia)

From your chin drips not blood but wine

As outside the birds warble:

The World is ours now.

In quarantine you have words.

So, cheer up oh Hafız for you had no world but words

Even if nobody understood what you wrote but the birds. (Gökçenur Çelebioglu, Istanbul, Turkey)

I hear the kestrel and the koel calling in streets

emptied of screeching, braking cars. The stoplights

blink red, tapping out a virus alert.

Might that be a coded verse from you, Hafiz,

a password to a gate that we could each open

in our different scripts, our separate solitudes? (Ranjit Hoskote, Bombay, India)

God stays on the internet watching the human insomnia

as the subworlds in the computer drift at extreme speed.

Nights are carbonised as all nights,

Meanwhile days are sweaty because of utopias and lifebuoys.

Give me the perfect word to match in a poem for everybody,

Give me the new language for sharing seclusion. (Ruxandra Cesereanu, Cluj-Napoca, Romania)

Is the tree alone

with its shadow cast by the moon on the humming earth?

Is the moon lonely up there

when the waves wash the back of a whale?

Solitude is an etude with an attitude

to find the cosmic WiFi emitted from Buddha’s router. (Yasuhiro Yotsumoto, Yokohama, Japan)

I look out the window down the dark stairs

towards the frozen shadow.

I’m on a journey

that questions the walls,

a journey that is

the silence between two thoughts. (Elisa Biagini, Florence, Italy)

Running out of the room to the empty balcony

Running between the walls of my mind, are my gym exercises for today.

Collecting the letters from my brain into silent words is my weapon.

Now I can join the revolution

ready to fight the invisible coronated dictator. (Menachem M. Falek, Mevaseret Jerusalem, Israel)

Friend, which revolution do you speak of?

Surrender! Inti biss Inti biss – only these four walls

speak your language. The ceiling sound-proofed

against kestrel and kite,

the codes Coptic, undecipherable –

Look – the floor swells in the wake of a rubber boat – (Abigail Ardelle Zammit, Lija, Malta)

Rubber made of fossil blood that noble creatures

Were juiced for by ignoble critters who drive limos

All around a planet’s nightmare doomed to last

Very little days and few disgusted oceanic crusts

Cut open for the rubberletting and the sailing glitter

Of a prow that no prowess provoked but a stern necromancer (Pedro Larrea, Forest, Virginia, USA/Spain)

So would you prefer to be out there rather than in? Whose brain

would you choose for a night like this, Hafiz – whose madness

to hold close, closer, whose voice to twist into your own as the water in the pipes turns

slowly in the walls, as your eyes learn to peel back

this thin ceiling, seeking kestrels, but always finding

these strange eyes blinking back? (Alice Miller, Berlin, Germany/New Zealand)

Blinking seems to be all we can do

in the wake of the last boat that has left, sailing

into a cruise ship graveyard, bodies stacked like makeshift

hospitals, miracles ventilating in cities where

nobody gets tested, so nobody stays positive. Hafiz,

what do you see when you are gasping for air? (Marc Nair, Singapore)

And when the last boat has left

you sit there like a letter in a misspelled word

circled with red by the proofreader. And you see

a long red arrow stretching from you

to the place you belong. Which is now a blank space. (Kārlis Vērdinš, St. Louis Missouri, USA/Latvia)

Filled spaces divide like cells; everybody is gardening. Everybody

is clapping, each clap dividing into another clap.

A new meme circulates of kestrels

delivering advice from a podium.

You crack open the last tin of Strongbow

and tilt its huntsman’s arrow towards the sky (Nicky Arscott, Llanbrynmair, Wales, UK)

But in our current sky

you are just a stranded cloud

an ulcer wounding the blue

Alone now in this Limbo

wear the rags of memory

reap nature’s rage (Vasilis Pandis, Corfu, Greece)

In thousands, migrant workers march home – hungry footsteps on empty highways

accentuate an irony – “social distancing”, a privilege only powerful can afford.

Cretins spray bleach on unprotected poor, clap, bang plates, ring bells, blow conches, light fires

to rid the voodoo – karuna’s karma, infected. When shall we sing our dream’s epiphanies, Hafiz?

My lungs heave, slow-grating metallic-crackles struggle to escape the filigreed windpipes –

I persist in my prayers. I’m afraid of Him. Hope, heed, heal — our song, in present tense. (Sudeep Sen, New Delhi, India)

Happy beings are extremely dangerous. So let us be happy –

let us sing under the happy sky which crushes us so tenderly,

let us dream our most beloved dead,

let us be what the sky dreams of when it feels as fragile & desperate

as the humans it crushes. (Radu Vancu, Sibiu, Romania)

We push back the walls

And erase the tally marks

And build a window of words

With a view of the sky’s beating pulse

We fill our lungs with life

And we dance over the veins of Death. (Roja Chamankar, Austin, Texas, USA/Iran)

Self-isolation is a question of growth

as flowers on the mountain surrounded by stones look for a hole in the ground.

Compare Socrates, who never left Athens,

John Climacus with his Ladder of Divine Ascent

or Christ on the Cross embracing all the world with his outstretched arms.

Self-isolation is when the purpose of vertical is a support or fate.

(Tsvetanka Elenkova, Sofia, Bulgaria)

Lines up and down, lines across, guidelines and headlines

turn me against the handle to my own front door,

converge on a garden gate I no longer fully trust.

Even my shoes are not above suspicion. I’m careful,

out shopping, to step between the airborne particles.

Socrates, Hafiz, Christ let this be over please. (Horatio Morpurgo, Bridgeport, England, UK)

And yet back home I find an unexpected form of belonging

as I glance, smilingly, at my own face at a virtual party

with my dearest friends doing the same:

sharing, together, our most intimate smile –

the one usually reserved

for the mirror’s eyes only. (Juana Adcock, Glasgow, UK/Mexico)

There was an outer world once. A school for my emotions.

They believe what they’ve learned there not from me.

I don’t introduce them to my friends – they don’t know how to behave.

If I had kids maybe I wouldn’t become obsessed with emotions.

So I sent them to my lover on Sundays, they like how she cooks. (Efe Duyan, Istanbul, Turkey)

Would you play Ticket to Ride with me?

It is a game with blue and red and yellow little trains.

I see the river Mississippi from my train. Now I see the river Ob in Siberia, and the river Ii in Finland.

All equally far, all equally alive. I read about rivers, I read about water.

I see a spider between two window panes.

It sees me here in my room, it sees the birch tree outside. Light green.

(Riina Katajavuori, Helsinki, Finland)

I look at my unemployed hands

Real became more real, more touchable

Like an old song, scent or angular form from “then”

Still feel between now and “then”, between all security lines

Drawn here last night. It looks like a distant constellation

From my steamy window, from my dock. (Radek Kobierski, Katowice, Poland)

There is no “then” or again

only many versions of “now” in this futureless frame of existence.

If all my nows could be measured for meaning,

hold it against the last litre of detergent

study the brand I trusted, to wash my hands of

the memory of purposeful touch. (Melizarani T.Selva, Subang Jaya, Malaysia)

But there is no such “detergent” that can clean collective memory of freedom,

in this Waste Land

turned into a concentration camp, where freedom of movement has working hours

and people are imprisoned in special camp-quarantines.

The virus of fear is released from the speakers and it spreads (“dramatically”) fast through social media,

patrols in front of the building entrances like guard dogs

between the barracks, in the “past”.

Our “today” and our “tomorrow” are what the gods of propaganda will announce. (Dejan Matić, Belgrade, Serbia)

Time – stilled, yet so elastic. Were you to ask me

what day it is, I might fumble, uncertain of

what you mean. Was April the cruellest month?

Now the gods of propaganda would have us believe

tomorrow’s “the day” – urging us to resume, repossess, redress,

when there’s still so much to undo, unleash, unlearn.

(Nadia Mifsud, Lyon, France/Malta)

What day is it then? Go on. What May is it that comes, what may?

What surrender, what crush of river whine, what orchestral yawn?

More whatever blessed Bulmers then [thank god the Dizzy Hunter delivers] and

Let us loudly wonder What apple swells inside to grasp the elasticity of desire?

We know who knows nothing, who knows the sound of one hand clasping

A bouquet of hemlock… Listen… the door handle turns for thee.

(Greg Koehler, Texas, USA)

The blackbirds in the yard are on their second clutch of eggs.

The pigeons, sparrows, and blue-tits strut, skip and flit as becoming

to their size and station. Inside we have a prime minister

perched on an invisible branch. He speaks to us alone. This is your yard,

he tells us. Workers return in the cold wind. They too are invisible. (George Szirtes, Norfolk, UK)

Mid May already the sun is not the same

Eighteen bodies in pieces on the railway tracks

Too hungry to walk simply fell asleep, deep is this night

A freight train runs over, Corona still far behind

A girl child is born on the roadside, the mother still walks for another twelve miles (Savita Singh, Delhi, India)

we need not stay

return with me to the Garden

birds there sing a different tune

teshuvah! they sing, return

beloved, surely You hear (Gabriel Rosenstock, Dublin, Ireland)

I will be gulping chilled water from the palms of my hands

tap water which I savour

and drink on and on and savour even more

and through this comes my awareness

to the flavour of reality

and the ephemeral (Zadok Alon, Mevaseret Jerusalem, Israel)

We can still find the time to read a hundred or so books

Burst into song about fifty times

We might still even find time to meet

And kiss in front of everyone

What do you think – if we did all that

Would the 22nd century come any sooner? (Olja Savičević, Korčula Island, Croatia)

Don’t believe what you think

This small world that lies inside you is too big to fail

Looking for borders you will never cross

Because there is no end and no beginning

You are floating, so swim (Michaël Vandebril, Antwerp, Belgium)

And nothing’s too small –

a midnight touch, a healthy kick inside the womb, teeth in your mouth, a bowl of

steaming rice.

Say it: Gratitude. Cut your loneliness with its song.

The cotton sheets, roof, your breath… even this pen on its last stretch of ink. (Sholeh Wolpé, Los Angeles, USA)

Profound is solitude in two glasses of wine – a ruddy horse and a white horse.

Nothing is as it seems to be, when you have it all and no one to share it with.

Soon it will rain and the doors will be shut– those inside are in, no others will make it.

Two glasses of wine, a black horse in the jug – I now have it all, but no one to share it with. (Arian Leka, Tirana, Albania)

After the rain I look ahead in the field.

Suddenly, I’m no more alone:

a butterfly waits for me, in the grass.

I look at her, waiting she keeps quiet,

without flying – so that nothing changes

on the other side of the planet. (Nuno Júdice, Lisbon, Portugal)

The sky is grey, it’s going to be a rainy day. Enjoy it like a blossoming

honeysuckle shrub. Long curly branches stretched out to the sky in prayers.

It will soon be Pentecost. Get rid of fear and loneliness. Enough of this exile.

A breath of fresh air. A good walk in the morning. Happy feet, happy heart. My mask is smiling broadly. Yes, I’ve put a smile on it. My smile for you, passer-by. (Doina Ioanid, Jilava, Romania)

Even if the air is transparent as memory and if new subtle birds haunt our minds, our exile is stubborn as never. It taught us to cross the savage rivers at any moment through stormy or peaceful weathers, darkness or yellowish visions. We have a secret labyrinth that communicates with the earth beauty, where animals, trees and human beings are elusive. No way to impose us social isolation, we are present in any breath of life. As we are invisible to those who guide us into distress, we can dance nude and bright as thousands of suns. We can share the sacred fire of our feet travelling silently from one to the other. (Michel Cassir, Paris, France/Lebanon)

In the cold spring, cut deeply into this hill by the lake,

I crouch in front of the cast iron wood stove, just like he did

in the six months he had here.

Now it’s me and the fire,

the action unfolding in flames. (Irina Mashinski, Lords Valley, PA, USA/ Russia)

it’s early in the morning and empty streets,

soldiers, police, check-points, all tension

my dog has no sense for isolation, we try to escape

slowly we smuggle to the park… and the forest behind

Deer are watching us curiously, pheasants, rabbits,

we are calm… finally (Brane Mozetič, Ljubljana, Slovenia)

children with swift feet jumping from behind

the bushes, we entirely forgot the children

not even six years old, playing: I-wanna-be-a-virus-too

wearing surgical masks for no other reason but

‘cause everyone does;

and still: they are not scared, they sing through the fabric

(Andrea Grill, Vienna, Austria)

of etiquette. it has entered my dreams: again and again

I retrieve my hand from the hands of friends and strangers

when we accidentally forget the rule of no handshakes

and I wake up feeling the touch of human skin

lingering in my palm like the unwelcome memory

of an old embarrassment (Sjón, Reykjavík, Iceland)

I catch myself staring at his 6-fingered hand. At the other’s leukoderma as he handles the eggs.

Known men, unknown vendors, their itinerant bounty fills my open sacks. Deranged by sudden

beauty, I want to weep or kneel, to thank each person thrice. Lalu. Abaji. Kallappa. I have forgotten

the sequence of obedience. I stand too close, hold too hard. At noon I am the only walker along unbridgeable gaps. What changes hands is the crush of notes, the currency of lines. Ripened fruit.

Bitter gourd. Amaltas all over the roads, blood all over our hands. They crowd me, each dying, alone (Sampurna Chattarji, Thane, Maharashtra, India)

Loneliness, my friend,

are you still here in this old house with me?

This morning I walked into the empty room

and saw your breath disappear from the window (Arjan Hut, Leeuwarden, The Netherlands)

My friend, we are always alone without loneliness –

molecules of a total human being. The Great Hack

has closed and opened our arms-doors, but what disappears disappears

to reappear where the sound of things is deep

like backbone of buildings, which press

with roots the earth and the void, void and earth (Maria Grazia Calandrone, Rome, Italy)

lately I’ve often had the same bad dream

my elderly mother disappears disappears

to reappear where the sound of things is deep

come here, my son – she tells me –, to hear the spring

to smell the flowers in my garden.

I can’t, mother – I reply –, because I’m wearing a surgical mask (Ivan Hristov, Sofia, Bulgaria)

we try forming an opinion or at least ourselves around it

but it keeps slipping through our fingers like every

distance and fact and number and heated speech given by the

lack of presence – punctuation divides us seamlessly while

sourdough is the only one learning everything about us

by seeing what giving up truly means (Csilla Hajnal Nagy, Istanbul, Turkey/Hungary)

I walk alone under the setting sun – in a memory –

feeling the touch of tar, receiving the fading light.

I caress my children in their sleep, miles away, I sing for them.

I’m learning how to access other consciousness in the distance.

Deep and ephemeral is the cup of solitude.

Hafiz, wake up: the gods of propaganda are upon us! (Nuño Aguirre, Madrid, Spain/Pretoria, South Africa)

I swear these rooms are eating me

night by increasing night, out there

creeping in at the keyholes and lintels

till on the day that dawn arrives,

the sky’s door at last ajar, I’ll not

have the strength to push it open (Jane Draycott, Oxford, UK)

Now that old fraud Time is in your custody.

Soon the rain comes free as if uncuffed

from a madhouse. The shadows of books

frown from thronging shelves. This solitude

is a prayer too loud for God’s pity. Try

to swim in it, out of view of the angels (Alvin Pang, Singapore)

dreamt that I was a dog

on tiptoes, softly licking your lips, neck, ears

in the morning my phone was still on.

You were sleeping in it – wet and blessed

I found your name and jumped into stanza 20

and promised myself never to go back in my empty bed (Madara Gruntmane, Riga, Latvia)

a pale image of yourself inside this eye

with the bulb fully focused on the wall

hanging mirror’s neat reflection while

certain thoughts’ noise humming ears

are stereo-typing bit by bit on this key-

board merged in a stark solid solitude (Alessandro Mistrorigo, Venice, Italy)

so solid, my dear Hafiz, that

on this slow and never-ending Sunday,

Beauty sits by the window

in her gold and silk and satin clothes

and desperately weeps

because no one will see her (Maria do Rosário Pedreira, Lisbon, Portugal)

Yes, she then knocks at my door,

dressed in so many words, so many lines.

She knocks like the wind from the north-east.

But I do not open – I’m not allowed.

I rest against the very thick walls that surround me.

I waste my life dying (Immanuel Mifsud, Ħaż-Żebbuġ, Malta)

I will be beautiful for the rest of my life after this. I will be

dangerous, I will be. The voice of a two year old says, Many things have died. He speaks of the badger

rotting into the river, the flat mouse in the dandelions, the cat who didn’t cross the road and the baby

crow, soaked and still in a rock-pool. But this is not what the world hears.

We hear foreign winds against our eardrums, in all their raging tongues,

today. And we hold ourselves, knowing that death is in every breath.

(Siân Melangell Dafydd, Rhos-y-Gwaliau, Wales, UK)

The wind is the breath which carries the birds

that are verbs reminding us in mid-flight:

The words we speak are most foreign to us

if we isolate a wordless self from ourselves (Yiorgos Chouliaras, Athens, Greece)

for forty days and forty nights. I keep vigil in my study,

circle in square, persevere at my desk, translating my efforts

at annihilation into coherent verse. My Beloved remains elusive.

I crumple yet another parchment and feed it to my lion –

eater of tongues and intransigent lovers. The peacock lays its head

in my lap, dressed in so many words, but I am not distracted (Mustansir Dalvi, New Panvel, India)

Our bodies display the wounds that tear up the world

Our bodies pray stigmatized by the pandemic

We breathe only thanks to the breath of trees

We greet the day thanks to unquenchable hope (Margaret Saine, Los Angeles, California)

We’re surpassed by the truth about ourselves,

this sum of big and small dark moments.

Our tongue-tied mouth reaches for the world

serene in its otherness. Silence pulsates. Spring is

cracked open like an orange by the feeble fingers of a child (Alen Besic, Novi Sad, Serbia)

For still more silence that pulsates.

What doesn’t kill you, just hurts, it was said on the news.

I ask myself if I believe that.

I’ve stood in the rain so often that it starts to feel real.

That silence that pulsates. All the vacancies connected

like a puzzle with an image of a nurse (Mathura, Lelle, Estonia)

At first

wherever sleep caught my eyes

I made my bed,

now my dreams no longer return,

alone I weep in an empty grave,

restless (Eric Ngalle Charles, Leckwith, Wales, UK/Cameroon)

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