Poetry in a Plague Year

March 12, 2020

As the unpleasant Covid-19 virus spreads, Snakeskin has been sent a pair of poems commenting on it. We thought we’d share them with you.

From America, Laura Johnson has sent us this Bop (I’ll explain what a Bop is later):

Bop: Crazy

An unknown illness from the distant East
crawls across our unsuspecting globe,
something like a cold virus, at least
like the very worst gunky-lung sort of cold,
somewhat like the flu we already know
though Trump’s in trouble for saying so.

The coronavirus is making us crazy.

In France the experts must explain
that this ailment can’t be cured with cocaine;
“Wash your hands and stay out of crowds”
(Like, why that huge smurf convention, anyhow?)
In Italy, weddings and funerals are prohibited,
in Walmart, the toilet paper’s all been distributed,
Soaps and sanitizers are sold-out too,
Somehow this didn’t happen with the flu.

The coronavirus is making us crazy.

To exterminate this bug they cancel flights
and senators who aren’t sick self-quarantine —
for fourteen days–“out of an abundance of…[fright.]”
Our stock-markets plunge and businesses take a hit,
No worries, Trump says the government will fix it…
but when have bail-outs ever fixed crazy?

And the coronavirus is making us crazy.

In Britain, meanwhile, Elizabeth Horrocks utters this curse against the panic buyers and hoarders of medicaments, tinned food and toilet paper:

A Modern Curse

May they be forever stuck,
quite bereft and out of luck;
may they find no consolation,
suffer as they’ve made the nation;
may they find they have no hope
for others have just swiped the soap,
bought up all the cleansing gel,
and the baby-wipes as well;
May the panic that they started
cause them to become faint-hearted;
But most of all, may they be, too,
paperless upon the loo!

Others who have versified their thoughts on the crisis may care to add them in the comments to this post.

So what’s a Bop? It’s a poetic form that I hadn’t come across before. It works like this, as Laura Johnson explains: ‘The Bop, if you’re unfamiliar, requires the introduction of some sort of problem, a six-line stanza, an eight-line stanza, another six-line stanza, and a one-line refrain at the end of each stanza.’ Rhyming, it seems, is optional. I may have a go at writing one.

16 Responses to “Poetry in a Plague Year”

  1. Hi George,

    Enjoyed the two poems. Here’s my attempt at a response. It’s meant to be centred but I couldn’t manage to do it.

    Hope all is well.




    That Hotel,
    guests avoided going
    past That Room. In That City,
    tourists and locals kept their distance. Across
    That Country, visitors decreased. Around the world,
    people from That Country were avoided, even as they avoided their
    compatriots from That City. And everywhere more and more bought masks.

  2. I loved the c-virus con tribulations, George. Here’s a very silly response to the situation (with no offence intended to those poor souls caught up in the chaos).


    The Stock Market’s in free-fall
    since the Virus came to town.
    The Dollar and Yen are in trouble,
    and Sterling is tumbling down.
    The Euro is currently no-go,
    not to mention the Guilder or Krone
    and as for Rupees or Escudos, oh please,
    it’s best that you leave them alone.
    Forget about purchasing silver
    or platinum, diamonds or gold:
    you could make a misguided investment
    and be left penniless in the cold.
    There’s only one way to a fortune,
    nowadays, and this could be your goal.
    Just load up the old shopping trolley
    and buy every last toilet roll.


  3. Elizabeth Williams Says:

    George – Thanks for providing a forum for blowing off steam! Here’s another effort to add to the Co-Vid19 mix:

    Co-Vid19 is spreading fast
    and no one knows how long it lasts
    or how severe are its effects
    but it’s a scare, and one suspects
    to some degree, for trusting folks,
    its actual threat might be a hoax.
    Not that reports are all untrue
    but how does that relate to YOU?
    Is it the plague? Is it the water?
    Is it a fire growing hotter
    which will engulf us all, like Hell?
    Or just the sick and not the well?
    Or just the damned and not the saved?
    Or just the good, not the depraved?
    The bug has freaked us out, and we
    are lemmings running for the sea.

    Liza McAlister Williams
    Brooklyn, New York

  4. Went shopping this morning, ahead of potential advice to stop at home as much as possible.

    Stocking up

    Tins of tomatoes, beans
    tuna and anchovies, jars
    of peppers and olives.
    Chocolate, coffee, wine.

    Packs of muesli, lentils
    rice and pasta, long-life
    milk and orange juice.
    Anti-wrinkle serum.

    Street food from a stall,
    newly cut hair, salt air
    on a beach or the wind
    in the boughs of a tree,

    a robin’s warning call,
    eight toilet rolls.

  5. Richard Fleming Says:

    Now I know why the shelves were empty went I got there, Sharon. Nice one!

  6. Nina Parmenter Says:

    I’m afraid this is what came into my head this afternoon when I heard of our ‘raised response level’ (or whatever we’re calling telling sick people not to go on cruises.)

    A Few Words From Our Leader

    Throw a pensioner on the flames, Rishi
    to fire our industry.
    Can’t impregnate an oldie, Rishi,
    they’re not much use to me.

    I have imbibed the elixir, Rishi,
    and I shall never die,
    so throw a pensioner on the flames, Rishi –
    and watch the hedge funds fly.

  7. Glenn Says:

    Here is one from “2000 cases and rising” Madrid:

  8. Glenn Says:


    We wake in yesterday’s tomorrow
    to find it like the day before.

    From windows we watch, wondering,
    worrying, wary, weary

    The thing is out there somewhere, thriving,
    teeming, roaring through the body’s gorges.

    Handle, hand, hankie. Knob, droplet, drip.
    Kiss and cuddle. Get into a huddle. Trouble.

    Toilet tissue for what might issue from
    the anxious excessively. Tins got in. Carbs.

    Unvisited elderly full of fear, ears pressed
    to transistors, not sure where trust is.

    Leaders launching calls to war,
    ardent for hard-earned victories.

    Silent sets on barroom walls.
    Sunsets on silent streets.

    Days and dates not needed,
    the future held up in the past.

    Optimistic predictions of better futures
    as egos yield to the needs of each.

  9. Some say the disease originated from bats. Others say it came from a pangolin held captive in a Chinese market. I’ve gone with the pangolin theory.

    In a crowded Chinese market
    A wild and desperate sneeze
    From a sick and shivering pangolin
    Kick-started this disease.

    A virus found a human host
    And made a close connection,
    Then spread like Chinese whispers
    In every bad direction.

    It multiplies within our chests
    Till droplets from a cough
    Can randomly choose victims
    For Death to carry off.

    Oh pity humans doomed to meet
    Their end when ripe with sins,
    But pity more the wickedly
    Abused poor pangolins.

    The Chinese grind up pangolin scales,
    Considering them superior
    To other kinds of medicine
    For deafness and hysteria.

    Science may call this nonsense,
    But cannot stop the practice
    Of pangolins perishing needlessly.
    So the unpleasant fact is.

    And when I think about all this,
    I formulate this thesis:
    That humans have themselves to blame
    For the spread of such diseases.

  10. Sorry about this folks, but George got me started on the subject of Pangolins. …

    If those Pangolins were Lemmings
    and went leaping without looking
    then in China where they eat them
    there would be less Chinese cooking.
    Folks in China could eat cheeses,
    replace Pangolin with Cheddar,
    then there’d be a few less sneezes
    and no Pangolin-diseases.

  11. Liza McAlister Williams Says:

    Hi George – “I hold with those who favor” pangolins, too! Here’s a further comment:

    Some say the world will end in fire
    some say in ice.
    And now the pangolins are higher
    on our list of suspects dire
    than pigs or bats or squirrels or rats or lice.
    So if it had to perish twice
    I think we know enough of mice:
    they’re pesky, but don’t roll the dice
    until you rule out pangolins.

    Best, Liza Williams

  12. memuir Says:

    Hi I am having problems loading your emails to me on this awful new ‘updated’ BT site Could you possibly send it me at my new email, and stick with that from now on..


    thanksM E Muir


    What masterpieces, symphonies,
    will be revealed when lock-down ends?
    What timeless tomes of poetry
    or video-photography
    will be engendered at this time,
    when to so many for so long,
    the gift of time is granted them?

    Some new Da Vinci or Van Gogh
    Vivaldi, Mozart redefined?
    Or will the world just get more dogs
    performing silly tricks or fools
    dressed up as vegetables or fruit?
    Or will this unsought time just be
    a total waste while waists grow fat?

    I think we may depend on that.

  14. Todd Jackson Says:

    Greetings again from a “veteran” of last September’s issue. Here’s a re-edited version of a villanelle I published in something called “The Q Gallery: Art of the Quarantine”:

    COVID Thoughts at 7-11

    Let us dare the virus for a kiss.
    Kiss me till my hypertension pops,
    Till that evening something feels amiss.

    From two million faces I’m dismissed.
    Life has shrunk to two convenience shops.
    Won’t you risk infection for a kiss.

    Dying every day for need of this.
    Kiss the glass between us till it drops.
    Then one evening something feels amiss.

    Hold me till we flirt paralysis.
    Hold you till somebody calls the cops.
    I would risk infection for your kiss.

    Press me till my breath escapes as mist.
    Press you down upon the counter-tops.
    Wednesday evening something feels amiss.

    Just before your shift, a touch of bliss
    Here or out in back among the mops.
    Let us dare the virus for a kiss
    Till the night we’re dumped in the abyss.

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