Simon Armitage, the poet laureate, has joined forces with the actor Florence Pugh for a charity release of his poem about coronavirus crisis. Lockdown, first published in March, has been set to music and will be sold to help raise money for the domestic abuse charity Refuge.
It features Armitage and Pugh reading the lines to music that starts ominously, and becomes more hypnotic and euphoric. Armitage has been making tracks of his poems with collaborators Richard Walters and Patrick J Pearson, collectively known as LYR, for a couple of years. The involvement of Florence Pugh – nominated at the Oscars and Baftas for her role in Little Women this year – was wonderful, he said. “She brings such intelligence and crackle.”
The track was recorded remotely during the current lockdown. “We are very familiar with collaborating at distance,” Armitage said. “We have spent time together in studios but we are more used to putting things together over the internet so this was something we were able to assemble fairly quickly.”
Armitage, a former probation officer, said he was proud that the money would be going to Refuge. “One subtext of the poem is the difficulty of communication during stressful situations. We have been especially conscious of the rise in domestic abuse cases and violence against women and children during the coronavirus restrictions.”
The Lockdown poem, first published in the Guardian, moves from the outbreak of bubonic plague in Eyam in the 17th century, when a bale of cloth from London brought fleas carrying the plague to the Derbyshire village, to the epic poem Meghadūta by the Sanskrit poet Kālidāsa.
It has a grit as well as a sense of optimism and belief. “I didnt want to just write a dirge or an elegy, but I didnt want to write a trivial bit of fluff either,” said Armitage. “It is something Im very proud of. I did feel a kind of pressure to produce something, which is not usually how I work, and it took a long while to pull it all together.”
The response to it has been emblematic of a wider interest in poetry during the lockdown. “I think people have turned to poetry, not just writing it but reading it … it can be something to focus on and hold everything together for a while.”
The Lockdown track, which also features saxophone by Pete Wareham of Melt Yourself Down, will be released digitally on Thursday by the label Mercury KX. LYRs debut album is released on 26 June.
Sandra Horley, chief executive of Refuge, thanked Armitage and his collaborators. “Almost one in three women will experience domestic abuse at some point in their lifetime; it is the biggest social issue facing women and girls in this country.
“Public support for services like ours is more important now than ever. It is critical that Refuges helpline and our refuges continue to provide urgent support and safety for women and children trapped with their abusers during lockdown. Womens lives depend on it.”