Surprised by how few literary references exist for the Spanish ‘Flu pandemic of 1918/19, Man Booker Prize-nominated Irish poet William Wall decided to turn his remarkable talents to creating a poetry anthology inspired by ‘the strangest year we have lived’.
Published by Doire Press, Wall’s hauntingly beautiful poetry will be
available from Thursday 28 October.
In Smugglers in the Underground Hug Trade: A Journal of the Plague Year, Wall captures the roller-coaster of emotions from the first terrible days in Italy to the highs and lows of the lockdown in Ireland, culminating in the frightening increase in numbers at Christmas 2020.
But this is not just a book about the plague: Wall turns to nature, to love, to his beloved Cork coast and sea-swimming for solace.
There are many tender memories, moments of personal inspiration, humour and hopefulness—the whole suffused with an acute awareness of the historical context. There have been other plagues and pandemics, the poems say, and we have survived: we will survive this too.
A sample from Smugglers in the Underground Hug Trade: A Journal of the Plague Year.
The Silent Road
the road that passes our gate
has fallen silent
all our days in this house
thirty years and more
we have wished for this moment
and now we are bereft
WILLIAM WALL is the author of four novels, including This is the Country
(Sceptre), longlisted for the Man Booker Prize; three collections of poetry; and one volume of short stories. He is the first Poet Laureate of Cork, his home city (2020/2021) and was the first European to win the Drue Heinz Literature Prize in the USA (2017). He has also won the Virginia Faulkner Award, The Sean O’Faoláin Prize, several Writer’s Week prizes and The Patrick Kavanagh Award. He was shortlisted for the Young Minds Book Award, the Irish Book Awards, the Raymond Carver Award, the Hennessy Award and numerous others. His work has been translated into many languages, including Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, Latvian, Serbian and Catalan. In 2014 William was part of the Italo-Irish Literature Exchange, organised through The Irish Writers’ Centre, which toured Italy with readings in Italian and English. In March 2010 he was Writer in Residence at The Princess Grace Irish Library, Monaco.
He was a 2009 Fellow of The Liguria Centre for the Arts & Humanities. He lives in Cork. You can see more readings from William through his YouTube page here.
My thoughts: this is not an easy, comforting collection of poems, 2020 was a terrible year for many, but it is strikingly honest and powerful. From the deeply personal to poems inspired by the news and politicians. The use of quotes from plague literature (e.g Samuel Pepys’ diaries, The Decameron) reminds us that this has happened before – many times, and will most likely happen again.
Charting the long lockdowned year, from its early moments to Christmas, the strangest festival in our homes, the poems explore the feelings and concerns of each troubled season, putting context into a frightening time. The use of images brings the eye to the accompanying text, a flash of life, startling against the stillness of the words.
There is probably much more to come as writers gather their thoughts and put pen to paper over the next few years but this collection feels of the moment and explains how so many felt faced with a year unlike any other in a century.
*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.