Dublin-based poet Stephen James Smith has penned a new poem, ‘Collectively Counting,’ that examines Irish life during the coronavirus lockdowns.
A stunning video that accompanies a reading of the poem from Smith is presented by First Fortnight, Ireland's Mental Health Festival, in collaboration with director Craig Kenny, with music from Gareth Quinn Redmond and Conor J. O’Brien (Villagers).
First Fortnight is supported by the HSE as part of Connecting for Life, Ireland’s National Strategy to Reduce Suicide.
You can read Stephen James Smith's "Collectively Counting" and watch the video below.
Collectively Counting, by Stephen James Smith, May 2020.
Counting numbers is a functional kind of meditation, a distraction in this state of isolation. Let's make a decision to count to ten together and find a way to weather this hibernation.
How many days has it been? Have you found a new routine? Have you lost opportunities? New possibilities? New faith in our authorities or still the same old anxieties? How heartened are you by the charity found in our communities?
How many are trying to catch our collective breath? Bereft of touch, on House Party drinking too much! How many are drinking alone? Would feel safer alone? How many are on the latest death toll? How many comparative charts do we need to console us?
How many expect an impending baby boom? Something to look forward to amongst the gloom. How many Zoom downloads? Jobs furloughed? How many had to look up the meaning of that word?
How many businesses with their backs against the wall? Yet how many received that welcome unexpected phone call? A break in the rent, a preorder, we’re in this together, we’re accountable? How many are reevaluating what’s reasonable?
How many have discovered creativity? Learned the value of art and opened up to their own sensitivity. Baked bread to find some normality. Yet how many are still privately privileged in this captivity? How much increased capacity on Daft.ie due to the decline of Airbnb? How many epiphanies?
How many unflinching journalists will be the catalyst to cut through the populist rhetoric? How many idealists, realists wrap themselves in the flag, at a time of distress? How many care workers, or those in nursing home care will be redressed?
How many clap for the front line while sharpening knives? How many comply to save lives? How many hospital tiers? Slainte to your health but slan to your wealth. How many facing fears? How much politicking is still done with stealth? How many hands washed? Scars are being masked? Sanitizer sought? which disaster capital bought!
How many attempted suicides? Heavy hearts praying to god, I hear a light heart lives longest, maireann croí éadrom i bhfad. How many cherished yet died for this old sod? How many get by with a wink and a nod?
How many aftermaths? New abnormals? Fish in Venetian canals? How much collateral damage is within the rational? How many great mornings and mourning greatly? How many memorials? How many air miles and carbon footprints saved? Which implies rescue. They say this is tough and aren't you?
How many leaving certs lost? How much will the college courses cost? How many sporting occasions, festival gatherings and built up emotions need to be unleashed? How many empty streets, full coffins, open calls, closed business, quick fixes, slow downs, stillness, in this? To what we bore witness.
How much hope, resilience, reconnection, comfort and thanks? How many? How much? How hard to quantify! How many collectivity counting numbers that are people’s names? Which gives meaning to our lives.
How many found reason to notice the seasonal change and the weeping cherry blossoms blooming? How many were humbled by their beauty? As collectively we wait for their petals to scatter, to fall all across Ireland and gather on our streets and lonely lanes. A sort of slow washing again of our pains, on the living and the dead. How many will find healing when all has been said?
One thing the distance has exposed, our hearts need to be close, not closed.
Credits for the 'Collectively Counting' video: Words & Voice: Stephen James Smith; Director: Craig Kenny; Music: Gareth Quinn Redmond; Muted Trumpet & Mixed: Conor J. O’Brien (Villagers); Colourist: Donal O’Kane.