Poetry and theology in lockdown

“Walk under the full moon” by Mara ~earth light~ is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Hannah Hunt, Honorary Associate, FASS, Soc Sci & Global Studies

How has lockdown impacted your local community? And how can you stay creative when so much is in flux, and expected ways of being together are denied us? These are questions I have addressed over the last year in my work with Leeds Church Institute as their poet-theologian in virtual residence. LCI is a charitable, faith-based organisation which fosters continuing learning, mutual support and engagement with the arts.

In a previous life, I studied the theology of the early eastern Christian church, and LCI’s invitation to become their poet-theologian in virtual residence drew on my academic credentials as a theologian as well as my skills as a poet. For a year, starting last April, my task was to reflect in a spiritual manner about the impact on the communities of Leeds of the lockdown – using poetry as a medium. Week by week I distilled the statistics, rumours, anecdotes, experiences and fast-moving changes in rules and regulations governing our public and private lives, and sifted them into a 500 word blog. I drew on visual arts, music and the Bible, and both my own poetry and poetry of other poets which resonated with my experiences.

Sometimes I found that a poem I had written some time ago found new voice. Other poems grew new roots in this rich soil (and yes, as a gardener I know the benefit of waste products in compost heaps!) I found the ratio of thinking/research time to writing time meant comparatively little time actually sat in front of the screen; as a poet, I describe myself as a kinaesthetic writer: I need to literally ‘take a poem for a walk.’

As the weeks went by, I found I could not confine myself to Leeds. The Black Lives matter protests following the murder of George Floyd, the devastating explosion in Beirut, the tragic loss of lives of migrants attempting to reach sanctuary in the UK all featured alongside the success of Leeds United, the fortnightly filming of snippets of The One Show on my street, and other more local lockdown phenomena. There are perhaps many opportunities to write about one’s ideas and experiences but it was exciting to be paid as a professional writer/theologian to conduct this reflection.

I should say that in sympathy with the ‘continuing education’ ethos of both LCI and indeed the OU, all my postgraduate degrees (MA, PhD in Theology and MA in Creative Writing) were undertaken as a busy adult, juggling family and work commitments. I am so grateful that despite the rigours of lockdown, its isolation, its loneliness, its anxieties, I have been able to engage in new creativity to share with others.

Hannah Hunt (AL A335, A332).

These are some of the issues addressed in my latest book Reflections: A poet-theologian in lockdown Leeds, published by Maytree Press in February 2021. In addition to my work as an associate lecturer teaching level 3 English Literature and Religious Studies I have a portfolio of activities as a poet, editor and convenor of literary events in my adopted home city of Leeds. I publish my poetry under the name Hannah Stone.

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