Poems of comfort in the time of COVID-19
Mon, 11 May 2020
First-prize winner: Second-prize winner: Third-prize winner:
Ann Scarborough Moore Linza De Jager Arcolate Ubisi
Cash prize: R1 000 Cash prize: R700 Cash prize: R300
Poetry’s true power comes into play when we’re faced with moments of crisis and collapse. When the weave of our world unravels, daily discourse will not do, and platitudes prove shallow and insincere. And so, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems natural to turn to poetry – a labile and liberating language in its own right – to try to give expression to our altered reality. AVBOB thus invited poets to come out of their creative slumber ahead of the 2020 AVBOB Poetry Competition in August, and craft poems to provide comfort through the COVID-19 crisis.
The competition – one of several micro-competitions on AVBOB Poetry’s social pages – struck a chord with our community, and the poems poured in. In many of the entries, the virus found incarnation as a ravaging beast, devouring lives in its wake. For some poets, the virus prefigured an apocalyptic end of days. But the three winning poems were personal and nuanced, detailing a revival of faith and fruitfulness, a recovery of agency and levity and a dizzying sense of freedom to come, and a refusal to succumb to despair.
Freelance fine artist and graphic designer Ann Scarborough Moore penned the winning poem, Harvest. Ann works with words as she does with the wood, ceramics and paint that make up her professional life. Married and a mother of three adult children, Ann has spent lockdown turning her kitchen into a ‘chaotic Soup Kitchen’, churning out 20 litres of soup a day with the help of her family, to feed those in need. Nothing comforts like a bowl of nourishing soup and a poem brimful of hope. And so, says Ann, “I entered this competition because we are living in a time of unprecedented fear, unsettled hearts and uncertainty about the future, and I felt that if I could contribute towards reassuring just one person, and bring them comfort through my poetry, it was my desire to do so.”
Ann’s poem speaks to a time beyond this time, when life is restored to its natural cycle, and we may breathe and believe gain.
Harvest by Ann Scarborough Moore
In time, your naked fingers
laying mask and gloves aside,
will plant a new beginning
in the ashes of your life,
with dreams that slip the darkness
to press against the sun
spirit fruits in embryo –
an odyssey begun
in trust, which only children
and nature can attain,
until the apples ripen
and you believe again.
The second-prize winner, Linza de Jager, is a freelance journalist based in the scenic suburb of Sandbaai in Hermanus. Like Ann, she slips seamlessly between the visual and the verbal, using words and paint to give expression to her emotions and experiences. “I love playing with words and art materials. Both are democratic. Both are forgiving. I like to pick words up, to peruse them, to tickle them under their chins and scratch their tummies. On a good day they listen to me. On a bad day, they don't. It's at that point that I leave the PC and pick up a pencil or paintbrush.” Her poem, Free, speaks to recovery of the real that lockdown has robbed us of. For Linza, lockdown has led to something of a revelation about what is important in life: “Forget about luxuries! They're not really of any importance. My poem is about enjoying the little things.”
Free by Linza de Jager
When lockdown lifts
I'll put on a hat
a midnight blue Borsalino that could have come from Strombolino
or somewhere fanciful like that
I'll wear it with a waistcoat
that is the colour of cinnamon or a sweet pumpkin
I'll mow the lawn and break down the maize
the one that grew wild during the lockdown haze
I'll take a walk to the sea
where there will almost certainly be children
setting a paper boat free
I'll sit outside until it is late
and should anyone comment
I'll say, lockdown has been lifted, haven’t you heard it?
Who knows at what time I will get to bed
The winner of the third prize in the COVID-19 competition is Arcolate Ubisi, a 21-year-old final year science student whose love of literature began when she was little. She read everything she could get her hands on and, through books, she found her way back into the world, learning life lessons along the way. “Life,” says a philosophical Arcolate, “is not always a bed of roses, and hardships are simply one of the elements that make up our lives.”
She entered the competition because she believes that poems have the power to heal, and she wants to encourage people to appreciate the life they have been granted. “In our deepest struggle lies our greatest strength. A lot of people often feel frustrated, losing hope and faith in hard times, but when I wrote this poem, I was reminded of a verse in the Bible: “God said ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.’” She believes that faith is more powerful than fear, and hope for the future can be found in the darkest days.
Let your little light shine by Arcolate Ubisi
Those who lost the battle, we pay tribute
Here you are, as you lie hopeless
Wishing this pandemic hadn’t left you breathless
This can't be life; God, we ask for a reboot
Hope lost, our controversial belief has put on a clown suit
This situation seems to be passing with agonising slowness
It'll only take discipline to fight through the pain to wholeness
Faith gone, fear has become our confession booth
As we gather all the pieces and complete the puzzle
Lest we be intimidated
May our faith scream the loudest as we are kept hostage in shells
Let not our proud walk become a shuffle
Eventually our freedom and joy will be sated
Incoming call... Is that fear? No, it doesn’t ring a bell
Three women from very different worlds are our winners, each crafting a poem that speaks to new life, nascent freedom and newfound faith. But their poems also speak to the rich variety of voices on the AVBOB Poetry platform. The 2020 AVBOB Poetry opens again on 1 August and runs until midnight on 30 November, with cash prizes of R10 000 awarded for each language category. Visit www.avbobpoetry.co.za to add your voice to this polyphonic platform.