Poets have taken inspiration from patients, volunteers and those living locally to the COVID-19 vaccination centre at the Francis Crick Institute, to produce poems that capture the impact of the pandemic and the transformative contribution of science.
In collaboration with producing company Poet in the City, the Francis Crick Institute has commissioned 12 poets to help create an exhibition entitled ‘A drop of hope: poetry from a vaccination centre’. The first four poems, which cover themes of loss, time, goodness and humanity, were unveiled today.
Nazneen Ahmed, a poet originally from South London, drew upon her own experience of being pregnant during the pandemic, to thank scientists, volunteers, and those lining up to be vaccinated. Her poem is entitled ‘dhonnobad’ a Bengali term which most closely translates in English to ‘I acknowledge your goodness and speak my blessings upon you.’
She said: “When I read through all the postcard contributions from volunteers and visitors to the vaccination centre, I was moved by the ways in which people were aware of how having the vaccine wasn’t just be about protecting themselves but also about protecting others: others they wouldn’t ever even meet. When I started to think through what that meant, one line from one of the postcards stayed with me: “It means the world."
Her poem expands on the words that inspired the exhibition’s title.
To each of you
Placing a drop of hope
Into this bitter ocean of fear and pain
It is your single drop
That will turn it sweetly salt again
Nazneen added: “Inspired by the scientific processes of dilution and dissolution, I reflected that while one vaccine in a global pandemic might be thought of as “a drop in the ocean”, each single drop of a substance changes the entire ocean’s chemical structure too.”
In January, UCLH and the Francis Crick Institute partnered to open a large-scale COVID-19 vaccination centre. It is overseen by UCLH and the staff includes over 300 volunteers from the Crick and its partners, who have all received NHS training in safely administering vaccines.
As part of the project, visitors to the vaccine centre have been invited to fill out a postcard where they can reflect on the pandemic and note their thoughts and feelings about getting vaccinated. Volunteers, staff and people living in the local community surrounding the Crick have also been invited to contribute through creative workshops and interviews.
New poems will be added to the external walls of the centre throughout May and June and together they will form a rainbow, a symbol of hope and solidarity with the NHS.
Of the 12 poems which will form part of the final installation, two will be in Bengali and two in Somali, reflecting the ethnic diversity of the people who contributed to the project and the community in local Camden.
All of the poems and artist statements are also available to read in full here.
Sam Barrell, Chief Operating Officer at the Crick who helped set up the vaccine centre and also volunteers within it, said: “These poems and the rainbow they form are a fantastic illustration of the strengthening ties between science and society during this pandemic, particularly with the rollout of life saving vaccines.
“We’ve vaccinated thousands of people within the centre and it’s amazing to have an insight into what this means for them, for our volunteers and for our neighbours. Thank you to the talented poets for making these connections and helping us appreciate the extent to which our centre is a space for hope, reflection and gratitude.”
Isobel Colchester, Chief Executive, Poet in the City, said: "It is a massive privilege to be a partner on this exhibition, collaborating with 12 exceptional poets to listen to the experiences of thousands of local people passing through the Vaccination Centre and communicating these through new poetry.
“The poets have sensitively curated the experiences shared with them, bringing their own personal voice to reflect on the tragedy and upheaval of the pandemic, as well as hopes, dreams, love and humanity brought through the vaccination effort. This work is hugely important for poetry, a true expression of how poets connect us when we need them most, through words which are at once deeply personal and reflect a common experience. We're so excited for the world to see this work."