From mid-April to mid-May, as the graph of the first wave of the Covid death toll topped out, Robert Alan Jamieson’s friends would find a new poem by him each day on Facebook. They knew that Shetland-born poet and novelist was recovering from what sounded like a classic case of Covid-19, and that the daily poems, which parsed the strange new world of lockdown, in which reality seemed to count for far less than dreams or memories, were all part of that process.
Some of Jamieson’s Facebook friends would have visited his home by Cramond Brig and know the short river walk to the sea which occasioned so many of those daily poems. Others would have been taught creative writing by him at Edinburgh University before he took early retirement this year. Still more would have read his poetry in both English and Shetlandic, or his five novels, including 2017’s macCloud Falls, which came out in paperback in February, just days before he fell ill.
In his collection’s final poem, Jamieson explains the title: these poems are, like plague clothes, to be burnt on recovery, and “cast out of mind and sight.” I think he’s wrong about that: these poems are written with a wit, emotional range, thoughtfulness and rage at the blunders of our political masters that it would be wrong to forget. There’s another reason too: back in April and May, the world he wrote about seemed constricted and outside time, but it wasn’t. Those poems about healing and recovery spread out on Facebook and came back as 250 orders for the book from brand-new imprint Taproot Press from no fewer than 27 countries. Lockdown poems they may be, but they clearly unlock something in us too.
Plague Clothes is available from www.taprootpressuk.co.uk
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