Writing in the time of covid-19


Typewriter 3 medium

Creative Writing during lockdown

Seamus Kelly

With extra time on our hands and with lots of very real issues to be concerned about because of the corona virus that can cause devastating illness it is easy to forget that theworld still turns. Musicians still play, artists still draw, paint and sculpt and writers still write.

Writing groups, workshops and performances have moved on-line and the focus of many is the current crisis and isolation is a frequent topic. For many writers that process provides a catharsis which they find beneficial. Some find it easier to write about such  issues later and meanwhile benefit from writing about other themes. Finding inspiration can be tricky when our minds are dealing with painful and worrying issues.

Recently while taking photos of my vintage typewriter I felt that it needed a few words on the page to add interest to the picture. Wanting something that might look like the start of a story I simply typed two lines without much thought:

“In the beginning there were
just the three of them.”

It didn’t really mean anything, but I picked up that paper a few weeks later and started to jot down ideas on it and it soon developed into a poem about my two brothers and myself (although it might well be any three siblings growing up and exploring their world).

Whenever I write poetry it starts off as a jumble of ideas or phrases placed fairly randomly on a page and after a number of edits it makes its way onto a word processor where the final edits take place. Here’s the poem that came from that initial, almost random, phrase. Perhaps the message here is to jot down, or to keep hold of, those seemingly random phrases because later on they can become just the inspiration your imagination needs.


Just the three of them

In the beginning there were
just the three of them.
And there was this world
full of plants and animals
and covered by seas
and wrapped in its sky
and the world was so big.
Beyond the sky there was infinity
and infinity included stars and nebulae
and unfathomable black holes.
Infinity is beyond comprehension
but that’s no reason to stop trying.

So the three of them read and
questioned and talked.
They took things apart,
reverse engineering before it was “a thing”.
Worked out how things worked.
They looked more closely
with binoculars, telescopes and microscopes.

The three of them went out walking
and camping,
they climbed hills,
together and alone.
They had adventures,
built dens from bracken and bedsteads,
and they built bridges and dams,
cut branches to make bows,
fired slender handmade arrows
and threw knives into stumps.

The seas washing onto the Achill’s sands
were the same seas tumbling Northumbrian pebbles.
Those seas held unseen wonders.
So the three of them read and
questioned and talked.
And they looked,
sometimes with their eyes,
sometimes with their hands.

They still explore their world;
walking and riding bikes, driving cars,
sailing in boats and flying in planes.
The world seems smaller now,
still astounding but less resilient,
they see its fragility
and they see their own place in it.
Veni, vidi, intellexi.
To understand is to conquer
and if they’ve not understood yet
they’ll keep on trying

And there are still the three;
but these three are not alone.

Photography : Seamus Kelly


Isolation Books

During this period of social distancing and lockdowns our mental wellbeing can be under threat. Naturally we miss face to face contact with family, friends and colleagues and even for those still working things are so different from the norm.

Reading books, whether on traditional paper or in digital form, is a great way to take ourselves to new places, to feed our imaginations and creativity; reading something other than the news is healthy and refreshing and can help us to deal with the stresses and worries or our current situation.

What if you could choose just three books to have with you during this period of lockdown? Which three books would you keep with you and why?

Here are my personal choices; I wonder what others would choose….

My Family and Other Animals (Gerald Durrell)
I almost chose Life on Earth by David Attenborough, a book that was really instrumental in my interest in ecology and my taking my degree in that subject at Lancaster many years ago, but ground breaking as that book, and of course the acclaimed TV series, was my interest developed much sooner than that. The books that really took a fascination with the natural world to a new level of interest and discovery were by Gerald Durrell, starting with “My family and other animals” around 1972 (about age 11).

Those books painted a picture of the animals, the places, the people and the way the whole complicated mess of life fits together and works. It wasn’t a clear picture but, like life, it could be chaotic, confusing and at the same time full of special moments, new discoveries and entertainment. I haven’t read this book in many years, but it certainly helped to shape my future choices and it has to be one of my “Isolation Books”

I Explain a Few Things – Explico Algunas Cosas (Pablo Neruda)
Pablo Neruda wrote powerfully of painful experiences, of revolution and oppression and sensitive, emotional and lyrical love poems. I’ve collected a few books of his poetry and it is hard to pick just one but this one, found in the famous “Shakespeare and Company” shop in Paris, contains a selection of poems from about 18 of his books (yes really 18).

Neruda lived through horrendous times in his native Chile and his use of language is so powerful. It is fascinating to me how poets from different cultures respond to similar things. The ending of poems can easily feel like some kind on anti-climax, like a joke where the punchline has already gone but that doesn’t happen with Neruda – the ending of his poem about revolution and persecution over many years culminating in the Spanish Civil War “venid a ver la sangre por las callas” (come and see the blood in the
streets!) is a perfect example.

Each poem in the book is shown both translated into English and in the original Spanish. I don’t speak orread Spanish very well, so I always read the English version first but then I read the Spanish version because it lets me hear the music and rhythm of Neruda’s words in my head.

Opened Ground (Seamus Heaney)
Maybe I first read Seamus Heaney because we share a first name, or maybe because people had told me how good he was or maybe because this was one of the handful of poetry books that my Dad treasured. I can read Heaney’s work again and again finding more inspiration and never getting bored. This book, like my Neruda choice, is a selection from a dozen or so collections so it means I can effectively read a bit of
each of those books – maybe that’s cheating; but I’m a poet – what can I say!

Seamus Heaney has written about life; all of it, good, bad and mortality. His reality is personal yet global. Not always a comfortable to read, but always enlightening and beautiful. For Heaney, and poetry, honesty is all.

Mid Term Break is perhaps Seamus Heaney’s most well know poem it is written in clear language, simple to understand and packed full of feeling we all recognize and share; yet it is heartbreaking. The last stanzas describing the body of his four year old brother, returned to the house for the funeral lead to the final, solitary last line “A four-foot box, a foot for very year” are the epitome of writing that delivers it’s punch right at the end and leaves you somewhat dazed yet enriched at the same time.


‘Creative Writing during lockdown’ and ‘Isolation Books’ were originally posted on  “All Across the Arts” (www.allacrossthearts.com) which is the website of a Rochdale organisation run by Steve Cooke and a twice weekly column with the same title in the Rochdale Observer.


Seamus Kelly is a Rochdale based Irish / English poet originally from the midlands. In 2015 Seamus took the plunge giving up his full time job in sustainable travel to become a professional poet and writer. Seamus can be found performing and running writing and poetry workshops around the North West of England and occasionally further afield and offers a range or ready made or bespoke sessions.

Seamus Kelly http://seamuskellypoetry.co.uk/


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