Why William Wall wrote a pandemic poetry journal

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A prolific author of novels, short stories and poetry, as well as Cork’s poet laureate, William Wall joins the relatively sparse number of writers focusing on plagues through the ages. Wall, a native of Whitegate and a former English professor at Presentation Brothers’ College, says that while it may sound strange, he and his wife, Liz Kirwan, were looking for books on pandemics during the onset of Covid-19.

“It seems like a counterintuitive thing to do at first during a plague, but it was interesting and heartwarming to read that plagues come and go,” Wall says. “Ours will eventually end.”

Wall was having trouble finding books on pandemics. It started with Thucydides in the 4th century BC who wrote about the plague in Athens. There is Giovanni Boccaccio who wrote ‘Le Décaméron’. It has a tale of the terrifying Black Death that erupted in the 14th century.

“There are Daniel Dafoe and Samuel Pepys. There is Alessandro Manzoni who wrote The Fiancés, a superb account of the plague which struck Milan in 1630. In modern times, concerning the Spanish flu (which killed fifty million people) I can only find references to it. in Mrs Galloway (a novel by Virginia Woolf) and there is They Came Like Swallows by William Maxwell. There is A Journal of the Plague by Camus which probably deals with fascism.

Wall says that survivors of terrible events like pandemics tend to want to forget about them, which could explain the paucity of literature on the plague. “I can only think of two traditional famine songs that are reasonably contemporary. At the same time, I have always believed that a writer has a duty to be involved in what is going on in the world. People say no one wants to read a book about the pandemic we’ve been through. In a way, it doesn’t really matter. Maybe this generation won’t read about it, but future generations will want to know more. “

It was Kirwan who suggested that her husband write a poetry journal on the pandemic. She took the photographs reproduced in the book, humorously titled Smugglers in the underground hug trade: A Journal of the Plague Year.

“There are a lot of poems in the book that are relatively happy. I engage with nature and try to have a positive vision of confinement. It is not all gloomy. Fortunately, we weren’t sick until now.

Wall suffers from Stills disease, a form of rheumatoid arthritis he contracted as a child. He says his doctors were unable to say for sure whether he would be particularly vulnerable to Covid.

“Still’s disease is an autoimmune disease so I would be wary, but I have no intention of catching this damn thing. “

Smugglers in the Underground Hug Trade: A Diary of the Year of the Plague by William Wall

When the Covid epidemic occurred in Italy, Wall and his wife, both Italophiles, were staying in Camogli in Liguria, an hour’s drive from Cologne where the army was sent to create a cordon sanitaire around she.

“I was listening to Italian radio. When I heard about the army dispatch, I told Liz that we just had to get out of there and it was going to be terrible. So we took the train to Rome, passing empty stations on an empty train. We were staying with friends in Rome for one night. As we passed the Spanish Steps, there was no one except the police. Then we were at Fiumicino airport in Rome. There were maybe 20 other people next to us. It was a really strange experience. We were worried. You cannot take these things lightly.

But clearing up – if you’re lucky enough to escape the virus – is important. In The Decameron, a fictional group of nobles and women leave Florence and travel to the hills to tell stories. “The argument is that in terms of the plague, you have to be entertained and have fun.”

But we also have a social responsibility. In Un journal de la peste, Camus writes: “There were no longer individual destinies, only a collective destiny made up of plague and emotions and shared by all.

“This really means that during the plague, solidarity becomes crucial. We share the same destiny so we have to work together. Ireland is a very good example. We have not had a massive rejection of the vaccination program as has been the case in America and, to a lesser extent, in Italy and France. We had 95% regulatory compliance during the lockdown. “

Anti-vaccines are making Wall “sick.” We have all been vaccinated after being vaccinated when we were children. The problem with public health is that it is not about an individual. It is a question of numbers. You have to think of society when you think of vaccination. When you are vaccinated there is a small risk that you can catch the virus. But by getting vaccinated, you depress the numbers. You flatten the curve of society. And you save others as well as yourself.

Wall says that in essence, “anti-vaccines are selfish. I guess that’s not true for everyone. Some are misled by bad advice. But the leaders of the anti-vax movement are charlatans.

They have an agenda, Wall says. “There is a political element to this. If you look at Italy or France, you can see the anti-vaccine movement associated with people like the Lega in Italy and the Le Pen movement in France. They are from the right. They emphasize personal freedom rather than solidarity. They see solidarity as a left-wing affair. But you can see solidarity as something Christian or Muslim. Most religions are based on solidarity.

In addition to sometimes having a political agenda, Wall says some anti-vaccine leaders have a financial interest in disseminating their beliefs. “Some of them are selling alternative remedies.”

Notwithstanding Golfgate and Merriongate – examples of the sense of entitlement and importance of our politicians, Wall says – would he assess the government’s handling of the pandemic?

“I do and I don’t write it down. In fact, I think Micheál Martin is doing very well and I’m not saying that just as a man from Cork. But in other areas like the housing crisis, it’s a complete disaster. They have to go back to the Fianna Fáil of the 1930s, when houses were built and people’s lives improved as a result. “

Reading Wall’s poem, “In Time of Quarantine,” it seems love will save us. He writes: “and some of us will be smugglers / in the underground hug trade / black market kissers / over-the-counter hug providers / leniency advocates / intimacy propagators on the good side. of the street / our only law will be affection / our currency will be love / of which there is no fault. ‘

  • Smugglers in the Underground Hug Trade: A Diary of the Year of the Plague by William Wall
  • Evening press, € 14
  • www.doirepress.com.


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