In September 2019, I managed to reunite with an old University musician friend with whom I'd lost touch – Edward Tudor ‘Ted’ Crum. It was an emotional meeting but necessarily brief so we arranged to meet up again in the Spring. Sadly, it wasn't to be. Covid-19 took his life in early April. It was agonising for his many friends not to be able to say goodbye to a much loved character. When I was younger I had learned a lot from him at a difficult time in my life. So I wrote a poem in his memory and shared it with Facebook friends. My eldest son, Nick shared it with some of his friends, and one of them offered to illustrate it. And so Nick's idea for this book was born.
As the University of York was ground zero for UK Covid-19 cases, I asked colleagues whether they would be willing to support us and Prof. Kiran Trehan, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Partnerships and Engagement was extremely helpful, arranging a pump-priming grant from the University’s Partnership and Engagement Fund and support from the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Charlie Jeffery, to get us off the ground, and Gary Brannan arranged for the Borthwick Press to publish. Professor Helen Smith, Head of the Department of English and Related Literatures (and recent Internet sensation) promoted it to staff and students and many of them feature in the collection. We wanted York and Yorkshire to be the centre of gravity of the collection but we depended on our existing networks and were therefore open to whatever came back from wherever we reached – so we have contributors from as far afield as Poland, Italy, Nigeria and Colorado, ranging in age from 16 to 98. The response was much greater than we anticipated and the present volume is around twice as big as our modest original plan.
Some of the poets are people whose work is well known – Ian McMillan, Mike Harding, Graham Ibbeson, Monika Kostera, Maurice Rutherford, Ralph McTell. The book also includes younger and part-time poets and illustrators, some publishing their work for the first time. The collection is aimed at the general reader, so our emphasis is on poetry that is accessible, but that does not exclude more demanding work that would sustain greater critical scrutiny. We invited poems that focused on directly viral experiences and reflections, people, observations and practices, but also those that resonated with moods and inflections that though unrelated may be evoked – from loss to joy, recollection to recovery, helpless isolation to passionate puissance. We received a set of poems that really cover every inch of that terrain. Whilst we were not able to find an illustrator for each poem, we have been able to illustrate two-thirds of the poems and almost all the poets. Some poets chose to illustrate their own work.
So many of our friends have contributed their work and time and talent to this project and we are deeply grateful to them. They appear in the biographies at the end of the book. Others contributed to a GoFundMe project to ensure that we had the upfront liquidity needed to sign the necessary contracts and they deserve our warmest thanks. But our greatest thanks goes to the staff of the NHS and care homes who have borne the greatest risk in treating and caring for sufferers. The profits from this book will go to help those who continue to do; the dedication of this book is to the memory of all those who lost their lives in trying to keep us all safe.
Hopefully this book will help us in dealing with often agonising memories, and will help to ensure that we continue to quietly celebrate their selfless sacrifice and keep alive the loving spirit in which it was made.
Stephen Linstead (Editor)