“Greatness” In a Time of Covid is the title of a poem inspired by the bungling responses of the British and American governments to the Coronavirus pandemic, with the tragic loss of tens of thousands of lives. The arrogance of the governments, based on their colonialist histories, contrasted markedly with the extraordinary bravery and sacrifice of essential workers, and the fact that the majority of those who became ill and/or sadly died, were immigrants, or descendants of immigrants from former colonies.
Written and first performed by Tayo Aluko, “Greatness” contains themes which suggest that the poem would benefit from translation into, and performance in languages of the European states that colonised the world – Africa, Asia, North and South America, Australia, New Zealand and territories in between.
The idea of Mapping “Greatness” is to gather audiovisual performances of the poem from people around the world, in the languages of the former colonisers, or in the local creoles that developed from the colonisation and migration processes. Those who wish to also translate and record versions in their indigenous languages are also welcome to do so (in addition to the coloniser language version). These performances will be uploaded onto a digital map of the world, and in each case, information on the performer and whatever personal and/or family history, including migration stories, they are willing to share will be available. Also available would be relevant information and links to resources on the colonial histories associated with that person’s or family’s journey.
This is an open call for the following:
- Translator/performers, or performers working with performers of their choice, or vice versa.
- Volunteer “language checkers”
- Performer recruiters
- Historians of colonisation, economics, politics, pandemics, etc.
- Web developers
- People with ideas
Please note: For the foreseeable future, all contributions will have to be made on a voluntary basis. I am however happy to participate in a Poetry Exchange. Any poets who perform this poem can have their own poem on the same themes (no longer than “Greatness”), recorded by me and/or any other participating performers. These will go on the website and facebook page. More details to follow.
Please contact Tayo at email@example.com
The text can be downloaded here, and is reproduced below in full:
We made our homes in the belly of The Beast
The Beast that devoured our ancestors
and spat them out on the other side of the globe
that stole our gold and rubber
our skills and knowledge
our art and music,
It gorged, and fattened itself,
dressed in unmissable finery
and declared itself proudly
It saw its greatness in our puzzled eyes
as we stared up the barrel of a gun
from every corner of the earth.
Its guns were needed still (we were told)
to protect us from the socialists and communists
Capitalism, our enslaver for centuries
would liberate us
It bought our rulers
and continued the quiet theft
of our humanity and our dignity
as it planted poison and bombs
where once there was rice and diamonds.
And then the virus came
silent, swift and deadly
we answered the call to the frontline
to confront this invisible enemy
we asked simply for gloves, masks, visors and gowns.
As we fell, one by one
we finally began to see
that what the gentle ones had been whispering loudly
had been true all along:
We’d been feeding
on The Beast’s excrement
unmindful of the fact
that The Empire
© Tayo Aluko 23 April 2020