So, how does an automation test engineer (software tester, for a more meaningful title) find themselves on the judging panel for a nationwide poetry competition?
Well, while it’s true when they say that writing code takes a creative mind (though I do still write in a more traditional sense in my spare time), my affiliation with Christina and her poetry initiative harks back to days preceding my career in Technology. It was during my second year of my BA in English and Writing for a six week work placement that I was put in touch with Christina. At the time, this coincided with the launch of Christina’s second book in the Felicity Fly series, Felicity Fly Meets Veronica Vac, and I had the privilege of helping Christina with various tasks, from accompanying her to book launches to helping in the early stages of setting up the very first national poetry initiative. Since then, I’ve kept in touch with Christina in various capacities: I was invited along when she was awarded the Sue Ryder Women of Achievement award, I played the cello at her birthday celebrations and I’ve continued following her achievements via other social media as I’ve moved around the country.
Though I’ve been involved in a number of the poetry competitions over the years, the lockdown life one is one that I was particularly inspired to see. This particular initiative was started by Christina shortly after lockdown began as a means of providing a sense of purpose after her school events were postponed or cancelled. But this sense of purpose that she wanted to foster wasn’t just for herself: ever true to what I know of Christina, she was also looking for a way to help others. The intention of the poetry initiative was for it to be a platform for positively expressing one’s own thoughts towards this new way of life, but also experience how it is affecting others. When discussing the initiative with Christina, she mentioned that, as unprecedented as these times are, it is common to feel alone during periods of difficulty, but, equally, it is nice to be reassured in that many other people are having similar feelings.
The rules around the initiative were also more lax than previous rhyming competitions to further enable creative freedom with a focus on the content rather than the form. The only criteria for penning the poem were that the poem was to be between eight and thirty lines and that it was to be about life in lockdown. Submissions were open to students between the ages of 7 and 16 and their teachers nationwide with a prize to the winner of £100 in book tokens and an author visit to the school. All of those with their poems published received a copy of the Lockdown Life book, and any proceeds from subsequent sales go to the Children’s Literature Festivals charity. The closing date for the competition was August 30th.
The judging panel was comprised of 25 individuals in total, from writers, to patrons of the Children’s Literature Festival, to police officers and more—judges from various backgrounds, just as lockdown has affected all of us from many walks of life. In a similar vein to myself, the other judges are people whom Christina has met on her journey over the years. Details of all of the judges can be found at the Children’s Literature Festival Website https://www.childrensliteraturefestivals.com/my-lockdown-poem/.
Having spoken to Christina about how the initiative performed, she told me that from very early on she was receiving numerous entries on a daily basis! Of course, this came as a delight as it furthered her sense of purpose and made her feel that she was doing something positive for others as well as herself. From the published book, it is clear that this influx of poems was from students and teachers all over the UK with a number of common themes being brought up, such as loneliness and feelings of being trapped, but also uplifting themes such as praising key workers, supporting one another, adaptation and unity.
Despite the variation of themes between poems and everyone’s varying experiences, the recurring ideas do all tessellate with one another, the good and the bad. Even flicking through my earmarked copy now, it strikes me that every single one of these poems resonates with me in some way. Some indeed moved me to tears: not out of sadness but mostly for the optimism in the face of adversity and the bravery from a generation that I am convinced will go on to accomplish great feats. More than anything, it is a pleasure to see the maturity in wit and craftsmanship that is exhibited, further highlighting exactly why the arts are so crucial especially in these times; I do not doubt that this has been an important outlet for a lot of those submitting entries, students and teachers alike.
However, while the initiative indeed saw an amazing showcase of talent, there still had to be a winning poem and that honour went to the very talented Oliver Klumpler, age 10, with his poem Lockdown Spell. This poem opens and closes with two lines that many will recognise from Shakespeare’s Macbeth: ‘Double, double toil and trouble//Fire burn, and cauldron bubble’, but also hosts many modern references that anyone is likely to recognise from life as we currently know it, such as talking about Zoom, Baby Shark and TikToks. These two combinations wonderfully encapsulate that there is more trouble in our lives beyond the obvious difficulties of life during COVID-19: the overwhelming technological reliance and challenges that come with it as we adjust to new ways of working, fighting with family that we may suddenly find ourselves spending considerably more time with than before and our hyper-awareness of the transitioning of the mundane: when in our busy lives before would we have had time to notice ‘tadpoles turning to frogs’? Because we all know that, as paradoxical as it seems, 2020 has dragged on just as much as it has flown past. But what I love mostly about this poem is how it also embraces the new and fun experiences, like learning TikTok dances, getting out to walk the dog, still being able to chat to friends and continuing school work despite it being a different format from what we were used to. Precisely the optimism and brave outlook I mentioned our youth having earlier.
Overall, I can certainly say I am glad that I could have had a hand in this Lockdown Life competition. Christina’s poetry challenges over the years have tackled many important topics, such as the initiative around climate change, so it was wonderful to see this particular one giving young people and the people who inspire and educate them the chance to showcase their work and both provide and gain reassurance in the fact that their experience of lockdown life is mutual. It really does echo the fact that the feelings and emotions we’re all going through are normal, that it’s okay to have them and that we are all here to support each other not just with Coronavirus but the other societal challenges that have impacted us this year. I can personally attest to the struggles of adjusting through this period and to the new normal we will all be faced with, and equally that art and creative expression is an amazing outlet for these feelings. At the same time, it can be hard to motivate ourselves with no purpose, so I don’t doubt that Christina forming this initiative will have inspired hundreds and given them a reason to express and share thoughts that they might not have even realised were weighing on their mind.
I am also grateful to LexisNexis Risk Solutions, part of the RELX Group, for supplying me the time to help Christina by writing this post with the two days of Cares Hours that they supply to their employees so they may conduct volunteer work and help their communities. I look forward to helping Christina with her future ventures and also to reading more of the wonderful work of today’s children who continue to inspire.