the war had ended and we, the survivors
all rotten-toed and trench-tired went home safe
to the Kansas base and we had survived the war
survived the sinking mud and shells and 

just when we thought the war had ended safe
and heading back home from Kansas sick, a cough
of relief we said we spread across the states
to the arms of our families coughing a bit 

but just a bit we said and not that bad and then
we were dying they were dying dying and nobody
knew the flu had dogged our footsteps home
all those hungry ghosts still out there entrenched 

and they say that we were the victors in coffins
and urns they say that we were the victors

by Jamie Hale

This week’s poem is taken from Jamie Hale’s new pamphlet Shield, and you can sign up for the launch of the pamphlet on 31 March, when Jamie will be reading alongside three other Verve poets who also have new pamphlets out with Verve: Hannah Hodgson, Marina Sánchez, and Natalie Whittaker, whose work we shared last week. We’ll be featuring work by Hannah and Marina as upcoming Weekly Poems.

‘viii’ is copyright © Jamie Hale, 2021. It is reprinted from Shield (Verve Poetry Press, 2021) by permission of Verve Poetry Press. You can read more about the pamphlet and order a copy on the Verve website.

Notes from Verve Poetry Press: 

As the COVID-19 pandemic erupted, Jamie was told by their GP that, due to their underlying health condition, they would not be a priority for critical care treatment.

Using the compressed form of a sonnet, Jamie wrote and re-wrote the experience of facing their own mortality, sometimes in their own voice, sometimes from the perspectives of others – a nurse working during the pandemic or the first carriers of the Spanish Flu – capturing the crisis from all angles. This work became a pamphlet, Shield, 21 sonnets following Jamie through the grief of facing death while newly married, and into a place of resilience, resistance, and a commitment to creation against mortality.

Jamie Hale is an artist, curator, poet, writer, playwright, actor, and director. They create poetry, comedy, scriptwriting, and drama for page, stage, and screen. They have performed their work at the Barbican, Invisible Fest, Tate Modern, the Southbank Centre and with Graeae, and have written for publications including the Guardian and Magma. Their pandemic poetry pamphlet, Shield, was published in January 2021. They are also an expert in disability and health and social care policy: They are CEO of Pathfinders Neuromuscular Alliance, chair of Lewisham Disabled People’s Commission, and are studying for a Master’s degree in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics of Health at UCL.

Find out more about Jamie’s work on their website or follow them on Twitter.

Verve Poetry Press is a Birmingham-based publisher dedicated to promoting and showcasing Birmingham and Midlands poetic talent in colourful and exciting ways – as you would expect from a press that has grown out of the giddy and flamboyant, annual four days of poetry and spoken word that is Verve Poetry Festival, Birmingham. Added to this is a colourful and prize-winning pamphlet series featuring poets who have previously performed at our sister festival and a debut performance poetry series, which has seen us working with the brightest rising stars on the UK spoken word scene. We also assert our right to publish any poetry we feel needs and deserves to find print wherever we find it. Verve was awarded the Saboteur Award for Most Innovative Publisher in 2019 and the Michael Marks Publisher’s Award 2019. Find out more about Verve Poetry Press on the publisher’s website and follow the press on Twitter and  Instagram.

Copyright information: please note that the copyrights of all the poems displayed on the website and sent out on the mailing list are held by the respective authors, translators or estates, and no work should be reproduced without first gaining permission from the individual publishers.