If there's one line that has become the unofficial mantra for getting through lockdown, it's Seamus Heaney's quote: "It we can winter this one out, we can summer anywhere."
The poet's quote (though interestingly it doesn't actually come from one of his poems) has popped up everywhere over the last month - scrawled on walls and shared thousands of times on social media.
Accompanied by a laughing face and glass of wine emoji, my mam recently forwarded me a pandemic poem for the OAPs written by Jan Beaumont called Let's All Drink to Lockdown that's been popular in her circle. While at the other end of the age-range, rhymes scrawled in children's handwriting and their innocent observations of life in lockdown have been showered in 'likes' when shared by proud mams and dads on social media. We've even had Derek Mahon's Everything Will Be Alright played at the end of the RTÉ Six One News.
Most of us might not even have thought about poetry since the Leaving Cert, but whether we're reading it or writing ourselves, it seems there's something about a crisis that puts verse back on the agenda.
Poetry Ireland has seen a huge response to the daily poems posted on its social media accounts, with Begin by Brendan Kennelly reaching some 30,000 people on their Facebook Page and Sundays by Kerrie O'Brien, written about making tea with a mother in her 80s, also resonating with readers who perhaps can't be with older relatives right now.
"We've seen in the Covid-19 crisis, how much people are turning to poetry to reflect on our experiences and connect with each other," reveals Lisa Jewell of Poetry Ireland. "People want to read or share uplifting or comforting poems, write a new poem about the strange circumstances we find ourselves in, and share poems to remember loved ones and pay tribute to our frontline workers.
"Poetry connects us," she adds. "It captures the heart and soul of human experience through words. It helps us to mark the joyful moments of our lives and it brings us solace during tough times too. We see that first hand in Poetry Ireland when people seek out poems to mark celebrations like weddings or the birth of a baby. And when they seek out poems to remember those that are no longer with us, and poems to bring comfort to those who are grieving."
This Thursday is National Poetry Day, with a host of readings, workshops, competitions and events scheduled to take place (see poetryday.ie for full listings) but due to the Covid-19 restrictions, all will be taking place online.
Not that that need dull the impact of events. In fact if anything, it's online where poetry is currently proving most popular.
Earlier this month, mum-of-four Grainne Evans was thinking about several of her close friends who had recently given birth, when she got the idea to pen a poem in honour of all the babies born in lockdown. When she shared it online it ended up striking a chord with a global audience. "It's been in a German magazine, translated into Spanish in Peru, been given out to new mums in maternity units in England and America and now I'm getting messages from Australia!" she says.
"For me writing something that can make someone smile for a second, or feel hopeful when they didn't before, is really powerful. I wrote For the Lockdown Babies to help new mums right now, but the gorgeous messages I've received from all over the world in response have actually been comforting me too," reveals Grainne, who regularly pens poems on parenting on her blog, The Breast Of Rhymes. "It's human nature to crave connection and since we can't get that physically, connecting through art and media is more important than ever."
Since the pandemic started, artist and writer, Taryn De Vere, has been posting daily poems online via her Facebook and Twitter pages. "My poems are usually silly and try to make sense of the world and express the absurdity of the mundane," she explains. "One was about crying in the carpark at Lidl (as everything is so strange), another was about deciding to foster a crush on the postman," she laughs. "It's not beautiful poetry that will win any awards! It's human and silly, fun and emotional." She too has been overwhelmed by the response from readers who've empathised with her words.
It's this sense of sharing that Lisa believes fuels our thirst for verse in times of strife. "We're turning to poetry to let each other know we're all in it together," she says.
But what does a professional, serious poet make of so many of us jumping on the poetry bandwagon when times are tough? Pulitzer prize-winning Irish poet Paul Muldoon is in total agreement that verse can be the perfect medium to work through complex emotional experiences. "People do, rightly, know in their bones that poetry may be a way of coming to an understanding of things," he says.
That, however, is as far as he'll go on the merits of turning to poetry as a source of comfort and hope. "Most poetry that's published is half-baked. It's of no use to anyone. In terms of self-help, it might be better if people picked up a fiddle or a tin whistle," says Paul frankly.
Why then have so many been embracing verse as a way to react to the crisis? "I think it's often because people think of poetry as an anodyne, as some kind of painkiller," he explains. "They have an idea that poetry will help where all else has failed. I myself happen not to believe that. It's an idea that has currency most often among people who don't read a poem from one end of the year to the other. And it leads to a lot of disappointment."
Unsurprisingly, Theresa Kelly from the Irish Poetry Therapy Network disagrees. "There are so many examples of where poetry has helped us in times of stress and difficulty," she says, citing Kim Rosen's book, Saved by a Poem, as delivering ample evidence to support the theory. "Rosen argues that poetry enables people to express the unspeakable, it guides us on our journey and can be an inner source of joy and insight."
She says her non-profit organisation, which seeks to help people explore poetry as a way to identify and deal with various life issues, has seen a marked rise in interest since the lock-down started.
"In a time of crisis we can feel overcome by the impositions imposed on us," explains Theresa. "We don't feel that we are in control and this can lead to overwhelming feelings of disempowerment. Writing our thoughts and feelings down can be very empowering as it helps us to put a structure on a problem and when we do this, the problem can lose some of its power over us."
If Paul was unconvinced by the merits of reading poetry to feel better, then he's even less inclined to endorse the notion that major times of crisis can be a catalyst for creativity.
"It's true that some great poems came out of World War One," he concedes, with honourable mention going to Wilfred Owen's Strange Meeting. "[But] The best poetry doesn't recognise as being big or small," he continues. "Is the sight of swans taking off from a lake 'bigger' than the events of Easter 1916?"
Paul (who is in a self-confessed 'contrarian' frame of mind on the topic) reckons the reason so many start writing in times of peril is down to "the sense that it takes no skill". "Most poetry that's written and published is of very dubious value," he adds decisively, putting the nail firmly in the coffin of both the subject and any thoughts I'd briefly entertained of sending him my own pandemic poetry efforts.
But according to Theresa, poetry created in crisis - or indeed at any time - should be less about trying to write well and more about the writer's own wellness.
"The crisis can be a catalyst for new talent but that is not the point of poetry therapy," she explains. "The interest of poetry therapy is not to create perfect poetry but to help individuals express and work through their emotions to achieve a state of mental wellbeing."
Or to quote Heaney once again: "The main thing is to write for the joy of it."