In May 2020 the award-winning cartoonist Martin Rowson set himself the challenge of writing a Lockdown Diary in verse. The result is Plague Songs, a unique cycle of furious, bleakly comic and often offensive poems about COVID-19, fiercely inventive and desperately funny. Rowson, who recovered from the virus at the start of the year (‘sweating in freezing fits, embalmed in bed/ In sulphurous miasmata, my joints like broken walnuts,/ With hogtied eyeballs and less energy than dissipating smoke’) records in manic verse the long lockdown Summer of 2020 – coughs and sneezes, lockdown-haircuts, funerals and furloughs, hangovers and hauntings, track and trace, when Death and Pestilence were playing on the swings and visiting the elderly in their Care Homes.
Plague Songs is also book about living in Banarnia – a nightmarish world of jingoism and xenophobia, hierarchy and inequality, government incompetence, Boris Johnson’s world-beating wet dreams, and the deadly twin viruses of stupidity and selfishness. What rhymes with COVID except bovid? Is Matt Hancock the Tory Party’s answer to Fred West? Does every shroud have a silver lining?
Plague Songs is also available here on CD, set to music by Welsh musician and playwright Jon Tregenna.
Recalled to Life
by Martin Rowson
You’ve been stuck indoors so long you’re Monte Christo’d,
Scratched days runed on the walls,
Your eyes Ben Gunning madly,
So stir crazy now most mornings you can’t stir.
You’ve been stuck inside so long you’ve gone full Withnail
Breakfast every morning
From last night’s takeout’s tinfoil
Cold Korma which you spoon in with a shoehorn
You’ve been stuck inside so long that you’ve Rasputined,
Charles Manson in the mirror,
Homer Simpsoned in your y-fronts
De-evolving til you’re now the Missing Link
You’ve been stuck indoors so long you’ll Dr Manette,
But you’ve been recalled to life!
The shops have opened! There’s a fire sale
On strait-jackets and shrouds on down the High Street!
Cover image: Martin Rowson