White cover with black and red lettering and central image of scrunched-up paper with 'Covid-19' written on itPsychopathogen, Nigel Kent

The Hedgehog Press, 2020   £5.99

New normal

This short pamphlet captures the contrast between normal and the new-normal that we currently face, with Covid-19. The first poem, ‘A Tragedy of Revenge’, has Shakespearean or Jacobean dramatic overtones with phrases like ‘Her mastery of murder’s arts’ and ‘spread death with baited breath’. The compressed lines effectively deliver the shocking nature of the pandemic’s quiet stealth.

In ‘Psychopathogen’, the virus is personified as an innocuous-sounding ‘globetrotter’ which is ‘travelling incognito’. There is irony in the fact that the new normal of Lockdown is a ban on international travel. Nigel Kent goes on to describe the horrific effects on throat and lungs when the virus takes hold. It will

then slip away unseen
from the siren scream

The freedom of school-free days is set against the reality of Covid symptoms in ‘Fever’. Kent writes of ‘this graduate of boredom’:

he dreams of examinations,
of test results,
of crisp uniforms

Perhaps, in the future, people will find it hard to believe the way customers ‘stocked up with toilet rolls and pasta packs’ in the first wave, as described in ‘Hyperopia’. This poem looks at the negative effect of Lockdown on a relationship:

and she resolved when things went back
to normal, she’d get her eyesight fixed.

I had to look up the title of the poem ‘Aestivation’ which, I then discovered, means ‘dormancy’. This is a poignant poem about someone cut off from real contact, perhaps living in a care home. I particularly liked the ending:

when living is the smudge
of a handprint on the glass,
obscuring the bright sunshine.

The final poem, ‘A New Kind of Normal’, shows how our choices have become more limited — and this also acts as a subtle metaphor for not being able to go back in time:

She’d liked to have sent it back,
but it was, ‘Non-returnable’.

These poems are straight-talking: perhaps they can help as we adjust to our new normal.

Sue Wallace-Shaddad