For most of you, today’s guest feature by Setareh Ebrahimi will really put into perspective what lockdown means when it goes on for years and years against your will. The poem ‘Like Grace Coddington’ comes from Setareh’s debut pamphlet In My Arms, from Bad Betty Press. You can buy it for £3, here:
“Engaging with the general lockdown reaction on social media has shown me how different groups of people have taken it – there are those that are, rightfully panicking, tearing their hair out, thrashing, screaming at the sky, denouncing their gods; and those, like myself, who climatized well due to having experienced some form of lockdown in their life.
I was never able to write about abuse or race until I realised I needed to talk about them a certain amount first. On social media I’ve seen posts like, ‘People be complaining about lockdown, brown girls been under lockdown their whole lives.’ Of course this hides a wealth of pain, and naturally we make jokes to cover it up.
Growing up with my dad, existence and isolation were the same thing; I wasn’t even allowed to see my family or talk to them on the telephone, or talk openly to my mother or sister who lived in the same house as me. The one hour of exercise we are allowed now, was pretty much the extent of my outdoor existence for years. Being 1-2 hours late after school once, when I was in Year 8 because I wanted to play in a field with my friends, didn’t end well for me. My experience was massively infantalised; I’m embarrassed to write that I was playing imaginary games with little kiddy toys into my late teens – my sister was six years younger than me and essentially the only friend I had.
All I could really do was read, depending on what library books I could get my hands on or what I could pick up at the supermarket or in shops near places my mum needed to run errands at. Even then I remember being shouted at for reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, till I had a nervous breakdown. Going to the supermarket or the laundry with my mum was an outing. Waking up in the morning meant thinking of hours in the form of four quarters, and counting them off till bedtime. I spent a lot of time wondering if I’d be better off dead, whether I should blow my brains out or whether I was real or invisible. The ensuing adult years of poverty, desperation, drug use, mental health issues and loneliness as a result weren’t great either.
A friend of mine who is also BAME and a writer, confirmed to me that the effects of isolation make you feel crazy. Nothing exists outside your own four walls. She used to not know what her city looked like. A small car ride out seemed like a holiday. The only outdoors she saw was the single road to her school; this road expanded when she hit college but it was still marked with curfews. She literally wasn’t allowed to leave her room in her house for the majority of her childhood up till when she left, at around 21.
Did you ever think that there were a lot of invisible people living in lockdown before this pandemic? There are people everywhere living sad lives, and then they die quietly. I’m left with the lingering frustration that things only become an issue when they affect people en masse, or affect those with a voice.
My whole concept of time is different, I could wait and wait and wait, and I won’t know if half an hour has passed or five. I can fit into small spaces, I can stare at wall for days. The appropriate endurance boundary lies slack. I wrote in my poem, ‘Glittery Fairy Princess’, ‘The rest of the party was spent/like most of my time,/patiently observing the passage/of my own life.’
My main issue now is keeping my baby contained to a top floor flat without a lift. For many people, lockdown isn’t romantic, school’s out, barbecue garden party. It’s interesting to watch people try to create new rituals, as we have done.”
Setareh Ebrahimi is an Iranian-British poet living and working in Faversham, Kent. She completed her Bachelor’s in English Literature from The University of Westminster in 2014, and her Master’s in English and American Literature from The University of Kent in 2016. She has been published numerous times in various journals and magazines, including Brittle Star, Confluence, and Ink Sweat & Tears. Her poetry has also been anthologised numerous times, most recently by Eibonviale Press. Setareh released her first pamphlet of poetry, In My Arms, from Bad Betty Press in 2018. She regularly performs her poetry in Kent and London, has hosted her own poetry evenings and leads writing workshops. Setareh is currently a contributing editor for Thanet Writers. In 2018 Setareh was one of the poets in residence of The Margate Bookie, at The Turner Contemporary Gallery.
Like Grace Coddington
We return to revaluate
what we have control over;
the remits of our bodies, we hope.
You get these little tufts that stick
out just like your daughter’s.
You suggest a buzzcut,
I try not to let my enthusiasm
for a mohawk show.
I think it would be hot,
imagine it post-filter
with comments and reactions,
it’s not just writers that think
of themselves in third person now
and displaced associations
are all we have,
I’ve always felt my spirit
was in a body it didn’t look like,
longed for a pink or blue hair moment
unavailable to round brown girls
with hair the colour of tar
that just wouldn’t take.
But I want to join you,
could buy a few packs of purple dye
and repeatedly apply before revealing,
fluff it out like Grace Coddington.
We turn over the flat in search
of clipper heads,
not to count what we still have.