Rebecca Goss’s foreword to the 2020 Poetry MA anthology, published by Egg Box
I write this, sitting at my kitchen table, seven weeks into lockdown. During this strange and surreal time that is gradually becoming to feel ordinary, I have kept in touch with my MA writing students at the University of East Anglia, sending them regular emails and reading their work. We even managed to gather in a virtual classroom to discuss poems in progress, though all cameras were resolutely switched to ‘off’; everyone’s lockdown dress code not compatible with video screen sharing.
There were days I did get to see my students’ faces however, during our tutorials conducted by Skype. I am grateful to them all for agreeing to meet me online at the ungodly hour of 8.30 in the morning, so I could speak to them before home-schooling began. It was a pleasure to immerse myself in students’ work during those individual half-hour tutorials, before having to face a reluctant nine-year old and a list of fronted adverbials. (Don’t get me started on fronted adverbials.) Once we had said our hellos, and I had checked a student was safe and well in these Covid times, I found myself peering behind shoulders into places I would never have expected to see when I first met these young people on campus, in January. Many students had returned home once lockdown was announced, and here they were, talking to me from their teenage bedrooms, from family sitting rooms, from private domiciliary spaces. I’m used to using Skype. I use it a lot as a freelance poetry tutor and mentor, and I have become accustomed to talking to writers online, seeing them seated in their homes, hoping they can’t spy the domestic chaos stacked behind me. I wonder why I was so conscious of seeing my students at home. Why it felt like a new and curious intimacy between tutor and poet. That I could suddenly study their posters and possessions, their bookshelves and beds. I think perhaps I was reminded of my own teenage bedroom; of the value I afforded that room. Of the privacy it gave me. Of the writing I did in there. But thirty years ago, when I was cross-legged on my bed, scribbling in notebooks, the world outside my window was a far less complicated place. What a time for these students to be writing. I felt relieved they had their poetry to focus on.
Not all the poems in this anthology will have been written during lockdown, but they seem the very best thing to read as we come slowly out of it. Our ability to travel and physically reach new landscapes will be challenged from now on, but these poems will transport you far. The work here combs an expanse of place and experience. Complex subjects are explored with astonishing maturity and many poems push confidently at the boundaries of form. There is an energy to the work, displaying advanced, original thinking. I read these poems and I learnt things. The writing students at the University of East Anglia have proved a fearlessness in their ability to dissect identity, origin, trauma, love, objects, language. May these young poets continue to write and may what they create from inside future domiciliary spaces, future private rooms, continue to stir us.
Suffolk, May 2020