Next up in our #CREWCOVIDSTORIES series we catch up with Ed Gillespie, longtime member of the Shambala family and originally part of our Imaginairum crew. Ed is author of Only Planet, podcast co-host over at “Jon Richardson & The Futurenauts” and “The Great Humbling,” GreenpeaceUK director and has a fistful of other accolades to his name. In lockdown, though, we meet him as a poet…
“What if what we don’t yet know is more powerful then we can ever imagine? What if the path ahead is unbeaten? The right ideas ones we have not yet thought?”
I wrote these lines in the middle of lockdown one, remember those heady, unprecedented days? Almost a year ago now we were stunned by the rapidity with which our supposedly sophisticated way of life could be so swiftly disrupted and derailed by a tiny virion. What an astonishing piece of terrible bad luck we told, and are still telling ourselves! How could this possibly happen?!
And yet many saw this coming. Astronomer Royale Sir Martin Rees, back in 2015, wrote about how our health systems in our interconnected world would be over-run by a pandemic even if, as is the case with covid, our mortality rates were ‘merely’ a fraction of 1% of the population. Covid is essentially, as any parent of young children will recognise, nature’s way of saying to humanity ‘Now go back to your room and think very carefully about what you’ve done’. So in lockdown one that’s what I did.
POETRY AS SOLACE
I coped with the isolation, physical disconnection and sense of impending doom by writing poetry. Poems have been an immeasurably important part of my life for years now. When my dear dad, Ted, died suddenly in 2016 his poetry collection was a vital source of inspiration, consolation and hilarity to my brothers and I. We’d all been on the receiving end of his missives, from the poignantly profound to the mischievously scatological, and reading posthumously through his penwork together over whisky, and through tears and laughter was a way to navigate the grief that threatened to overwhelm us in those first few agonising weeks.
Taking up the paternal mantle I then began to write more myself, often pleasantly surprised by what emerge. The emotional clarity and elegant economy of language of a great poem is a liberation when we’re all struggling not to drown in tidal waves of ‘content’. There’s an essence to poetry that can cut through the thickest skin and into the hardest heart, a literal gut punch that can leave us gasping for breath long after the first reading.
My poetic crutch carried me through the loss of my relationship, access to my daughter, the loss of my business and then horror beyond horrors, the tragic and untimely death of my brother Will who Shambalans may remember as the chef behind the insect bar ‘Anyone for Crickets?’ Will was also a prolific and talented wordsmith, which is why the poetry collection of my writings ‘Songs of Love in Lockdown’ is dedicated to him and our father. Bill and Ted. I hope they’re both off on a bloody excellent adventure somewhere together now! Probably involving ribaldry and whisky.
POETRY AS RITUAL
Every morning during that first lockdown I had a daily ritual practice, one I had first discovered through the incredible Dr Martin Shaw whilst studying at the West Country School of Myth. At the school Martin would kick off each day by reading 2-3 poems and then we would all respond, writing a brief 5 minute poem entirely spontaneously, off the cuff, on the back of the inspiration and provocation we’d just hungrily received. The results were always mind-blowing. The unfiltered, unpolished prose flowing (some might say ‘channelled’?) from a deep place, was full of potent imagery and imagination, embodying the School’s ‘Romanticism as Activism’ ethos.
So I’d rouse myself, brew the coffee, read a poem from a collection such as the beautiful ‘Staying Alive’, and then put pen to paper to see what came out. What emerged is pretty much the contents of ‘Songs of Love in Lockdown’, presented largely as they unfolded, in chronological order. The 45 poems in the collection take the reader on a journey across those weird and wild days.
poetry as a torch
Humans are infinitely adaptable. Yet we are also forgetful. For me the book is a powerful reminder, like a journal, of the rollercoaster emotions and feelings we were all experiencing in those first tumultuous weeks. And a way to hold onto the insights and hard lessons. The solidarity of vulnerability. The terrible inequalities of experience and outcome. The urgency and scale of our collective climate and ecological challenges still lurking beyond.
But also the sharply clarified positives. That what we ultimately value is the tender physical intimacy of people; our lovers, friends and families. The ability to immerse ourselves in the biggest natural ‘we’ alongside the myriad species and niches with which we are privileged to share the world. The spontaneity of humanity, dancing in a field under the stars with other gorgeous souls on a balmy summers night…
All this will return, of that we can be sure. But ‘Songs of Love in Lockdown’ is my own little contribution to not just get ‘back to normal’ or even ‘build back better’ but to capture aspects of the ineffable spirit and resilience of these times in the moment. To hold them close and hold them high, as torches to guide us in the darkness on the unbeaten path ahead.