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On the Spirit of Poetry in a Time of Plague.

The First Imaginationalist Manifesto



Twelve statements.

1.COVID, if I catch and carry it, may bring not only my own sickness, sorrow, suffering, and possibly death, but also those of another, of others. COVID can destroy my health, haleness, wellness, life itself, and those of another, others, many others. As an agent and carrier of death, COVID can literally take my breath away – and yours, one you or more you.

2.COVID is both individual and communal. Individual, because if I catch it, it’s I who suffer. Communal, because it’s infectious, i.e. capable of being carried to me only by another (others) and equally to another (others) by me. I don’t, won’t, can’t catch COVID in any other way than from somebody else, some other body. Nor do, will, can you: you singular, you plural.

3.COVID makes me realise and recognize more and more deeply that I’m mortal, that (my) life is short, that (my) nature is animal, that (my) death is inevitable, ineluctable, inescapable – and that all this is true of and for you too – again, you singular and you plural.

4.Nor can I avoid converting all the above statements, which refer to I and me, to all other pronouns (beings and entities) – above all to, you, singular, other, and you, plural, others: that is, all together, we / us. COVID can’t help personalising, individualising everybody, each and every anybody or somebody, any and every other, all others. But curiously, far from separating us, COVID emphasises our community and, perhaps, even creates our communality, which is inevitably universal, since nobody (human), even if inoculated, can be entirely excluded from the risk of catching this plague.

5.All these areas and aspects of attentivity involves my realisation, too, that so far as I (we, all of us) know, there’s no consciousness without mortality.

6.Poetry is the linguistic medium above all others and par excellence that not only bares this entire set of awarenesses of mortality but also enables me (us, all of us) to bear it, and to do so with courage, patience, modesty, and compassion for others.

7.So: in such times as this time, this time of plague, I (we, you) need, want, rely on poetry more and more, and with increasing curiosity, urgency and passion. For poems, including stories and songs, are more capable of forming, formulating, expressing and communicating care, carefulness, and caringness, and doing so more honestly, truthfully, intensely, fully and profoundly, than any other linguistic expression.

8.Conversely, when any expression in language touches, even merely grazes – no, even so much as hints at – any such quality of honesty, truthfulness, intensity, fulness and profundity, it necessarily becomes poetry.

9.For that’s precisely what poetry is: language in its highest, best and completest form of honesty, truthfulness, intensity and profundity.

10.So I (you, we, all of us) need, want, rely on poetry in a time of plague, not only because it consoles me (all of you, all of us) – in, through and despite all my (our, your) weaknesses and fragilities – but also because it makes me (us) even more aware of all these aspects of living and dying. In so doing, it brings me (each of you, each of us) closer to the realities of the human heart, mind, spirit, soul, flesh, body.

11.But poetry isn’t borne or expressive of only pain and suffering. Poetry is and brings and reveals joy, and hope, and courage in the thisness, the hereness, the nowness of the this-here-now, and in the miraculous beauty and grace of this universe in the fullest possible context of all its (and our) mornings and evenings, nights and days, morrows and tomorrows.

12.With respect to and within the specific field of language, in the face of birth and death – this face that is so clearly delineated in a time of plague – poetry is the prime and most treasured agent of all hope, all courage, all joy.



Cambridge, 29-30 July 2021

RICHARD BERENGARTEN’s writings include: (poetry) ChangingNotness: Sonnets, ManualFor the LivingThe Manager, and his Balkan Trilogy: The Blue ButterflyIn a Time of Drought and Under Balkan Light; and (prose) Balkan Spaces (Essays and Sketches)A Portrait in InterviewsImagems 1 and Imagems 2 – all published by Shearsman and available online here.




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