‘Human existence is so fragile a thing and exposed to such dangers that I cannot love without trembling’
– Simone Weil
It is hard to know what to write. I have already written a lockdown editorial. When the European Cultural Foundation generously agreed to fund this focus on the European pandemic, we imagined it might be a chance to reopen borders that had been closed; to process a trauma we were emerging from and imagine a hopeful future. Instead, I write this whilst home-schooling again in a second lockdown harder, in many ways, than the first – from a UK that has completed its self-destructive Brexit, and where a mutated strain has emerged, with half of our COVID-19 death-toll in just the last two months. In 2021, it seems, there are unlikely to be travel corridors; no one talks of live readings or festivals anymore. The simple novelty of first lockdown, along with that sense of hopefulness – the cleaner air, community food parcels, clapping for the NHS, rainbows in windows – has dissipated after a year of corrupt contracts and diverted blame.
It has been painful in many ways, reading many poems about a situation still so urgent and ongoing, from the middle of things. To read so many poems about smallness: laundry, a tree, birdsong, coffee, an egg, a bag of flour. Isolation. Resignation. Having just repeated to my children another of the Prime Minister’s promises, which I did not believe would be kept, I flinched when in ‘Children’ by the Maltese poet Immanuel Mifsud, translated by Ruth Ward, the mother ‘wipes another lie on her apron.’ I wept at words by Giulia Scialpi, translated by Rachele Salvini: ‘A light rain bounced between the sunrays. I squinted my eyes, pushed back my head, and thought that I need to become tame.’
So, this is not really an uplifting issue. But uplifting narratives, underwritten by that great lie of human progress, are perhaps not always what we need. Sometimes we need to mourn what has been lost. To have our sadness articulated; to inhabit our shared grief. The story does not always end with a rainbow. I am pleased to publish a little-known poem by one of my favourite philosophers, the mystic Simone Weil, in these pages. I try to remember her words about life: ‘The sea is not less beautiful in our eyes because we know that sometimes ships are wrecked by it.’
Many thanks to everyone who has helped with this issue: to Munawwar Abdulla for curating an important feature on Uyghur poetry; to the European Cultural Foundation for generously funding this focus, an event and workshop; and to Annie Rutherford at StAnza for collaborating on the WindowSwap project. I hope at least that for some of the poets and translators who have participated in this focus, the process has brought moments of connection, forgetfulness, or even joy in this difficult year. I hope that by the time these poems reach you, things are getting better. But, if not, they say that you are not alone.
READ SELECTED POEMS FROM THIS ISSUE
Translated by NAUSH SABAH
JIMENA GONZÁLEZ, ‘CITY’
Translated by CHARLOTTE COOMBE
CHIMENGÜL AWUT, ‘CRY, WIND’
Translated by MUNAWWAR ABDULLA
SAFIYE CAN, ‘LOVE IN LOCKDOWN’
Translated by MARTIN KRATZ
GIULIA SCIALPI, ‘BEING TAME’
Translated by RACHELE SALVINI