Fernweh

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The week the Coronavirus national lockdown started in the UK, I decided to start a social-media-based poetry project: ‘The #tpomarquarantinepoetry Series’. By the time I announced this on my Instagram profile, I’d been on self-isolation for a couple of weeks and I’d already started struggling mentally: My health anxiety was severely aggravated, I’d not left the house in 14 days, I was chronically restless at the sight of a Google Calendar clear of all social life, plans, and distractions, etc. These feelings were exacerbated by my impatience and the lack of clarity around when (if ever!) we were going to be able to resume normal life. When further uncertainty surrounding the future I’d always envisioned as certain/taken for granted came knocking on my door, I positively “lost it”.

Despite my many relative privileges (of which I am acutely aware), the first two months of lockdown did a number on me. So, I turned to my old faithful therapist: My poetry. To combat the effects of seclusion, I asked people on Instagram to give me a prompt (anything), which I would then use to write a poem in just under a week and post it on both my social profile and my blog. This was a huge challenge for me as I always found it hard to let go of my work in the past – and because I knew in my social sharing of these poems, I’d be forfeiting the opportunity to have them published in most reputable journals. But, I went ahead and did it anyway. I kept up this demanding routine – paid job during office hours and my poetry project in the evenings – for 7 weeks.

Then, following the killing of George Floyd, Black Lives Matter protests occurred in dozens of cities across the United States – with these being eventually staged internationally too – and my navel-gazing musings and little woes seemed rather insignificant and overindulgent. So, not wanting to take up space unnecessarily, I decided to put an end to ‘The #tpomarquarantinepoetry Series’.

I’ve continued to write to process this tornado of feelings I have continually and destructively rotating in the pit of my stomach. But, I’ve failed to share anything new for the past two months. However, I felt like I needed to post the last ‘quarantine poem’ I wrote, taking the opportunity to explain the hiatus while simultaneously confirming that I won’t continue doing the weekly prompt thing – at least not for the time being…

‘Fernweh’ was written from two separate prompts: ‘Healing and accepting that the changes in our daily lives are the new normal’ and ‘Wanderlust’. We’re all too familiar with the meaning of ‘homesickness’ but, in these home-bound COVID-19 times, I’ve found that the exact opposite feeling has been the most prevalent in my mind and heart. And, of course, there’s a German word for it: Fernweh. ‘Fern’ means ‘far’ and ‘weh’ is defined as ‘pain’, ‘misery’, or ‘woe’. Thus, ‘fernweh’ is often translated as ‘farsickness’ or ‘longing for far-off places’, especially those not yet visited. This notion, coupled with listening to Frank Ocean’s version of ‘Moon River’, spurred me on to write this last poem. The Atlantic Monthly once described Audrey Hepburn’s original rendition of ‘Moon River’ as ‘a love sung [sic] to wanderlust. Or a romantic song in which the romantic partner is the idea of romance.’ I think the same is true of my poem, ‘Fernweh’.

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