April 17, 2020

Poets respond to coronavirus crisis with new NHS anthology


The newly-opened NHS Nightingale emergency hospital at the Excel Centre, London (Sludge G via WikiCommons / CC BY-SA)

The past few weeks have seen a renewed appreciation in the UK for the National Health Service, as it battles the staggering pressure created by the number of people requiring emergency treatment for the symptoms of COVID-19.

Amid the ongoing row over the provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for key workers; the rapid construction of a new hospital, NHS Nightingale, at the Excel Centre; and UK prime minister Boris Johnson himself requiring ICU treatment at St. Thomas’s Hospital, the NHS has rarely been under such sustained stress.

The rest of the country, currently under a recently-extended lockdown, has responded accordingly, with gestures of thanks and fundraising efforts—some of which are impossibly, movingly generous. In what is fast becoming a weekly ritual, residents are taking to their front windows and gardens* each Thursday at 8pm to applaud NHS staff. 99 year-old army veteran Captain Tom Moore has raised over 12 million pounds for the NHS by completing 100 lengths of his (very large) back garden—an extraordinary feat for a man who turns 100 at the end of the month, and one which has attracted national coverage.

Publishing has played its part in thanking our health workers, too. At the beginning of April, indie house Fair Acre Press published their poetry collection These Are the Hands: Poems from the Heart of the NHS. It features work by Michael Rosen,** Lemn Sissay, Roger McGough, and brilliant nurse-slash-author Molly Case, among many others. The collection has obviously gained further resonance since Fair Acre’s initial announcement back in September last year, and consequently gained huge press coverage, most notably from Alison Flood in Guardian books – helping the book to pull in over £2500 in sales, and rising—all of which goes to support the NHS’s COVID-19 relief fund.

There’s a palpable feeling of change in the air, as the UK population realises the sacrifices made by key workers—not just now, but every day. Let’s hope this renewed appreciation for frontline staff translates into updated policy thinking when we are finally able to take stock of these extraordinary times.



*No, we don’t have balconies, yes, we’re mad about it.

**Who is currently ill with coronavirus himself. Wishing you strength, Michael.


Tom Clayton is publishing executive at Melville House UK.