Change the world


Nelson Mandela University Professor Rose Boswell has released a book of poetry which she hopes will help heal minds made fragile by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Pandemix, the poetic professor of Ocean Cultures and Heritage takes a look into the psyche of life under lockdown.

The Port Elizabeth academic knows that just as the virus has shattered lives physically, so too has it taken a severe toll on mental health. These effects will be felt long after the disease has peaked and run its course.

“There is no vaccine yet for COVID-19. However, we need art and poetry to evoke, articulate and hopefully heal the turbulent emotions brought by the pandemic.

Pandemix is my latest poetry book which was published just this month,” the writer and anthropologist said. “It features more than 45 poems I composed between March and July 2020.”

She hopes the poems in Pandemix will give “some insight into the range of human emotions experienced during the first six months of the pandemic”.

“They address a diversity of themes emerging during the COVID-19 pandemic, from the reinforcement of gender inequalities due to lockdown, to triumphalist patriarchal politics and abandonment in the US.

“In one blink the virus unleashed with it an outpouring of fear, paranoia and vulnerability. Poetry and art are unrecognised antidotes to what currently plagues humanity.”

Boswell believes in the power of words to reconnect humanity, especially in a time of social distancing and deadly fear of contagion. Equally, emotions matter and can provide deep insight into individual and national psyche.

“Through poetry I seek to articulate the emotions and mental states of various people.”

The cover page is the artwork of celebrated international artist Tanya Katherine Poole, which led to one of the poems Eye Knew.

Boswell said works of art had sparked off ideas for Pandemix, which features the lockdown work of artists from across the world.

As Boswell writes in her introduction, “in a media saturated world, where emotions are ephemeral, poetry makes space for the pause”.

“By ‘stopping’ the world, forcing us indoors and making us encounter the vulnerability of others, COVID-19 has compelled us to feel and see one another once more.” 

“What is the place of feeling in a time of dramatic social change and tragedy?” she asks.

And the effects have already been tragic. In six short months, close to 25-million people have been infected and the death toll is over 800 000.

“Many died sacrificing their lives to deliver care.”

Not only frontline workers have been at risk:  “As lockdown levels eased and alcohol went on sale, South Africans witnessed increasing levels of violence, especially against women.”

“Telling this story is important. However there is a risk that in doing so one might omit nuanced experiences of suffering, sacrifice and outrage.

“This anthology hopes to add nuance to public thoughts and expressions on Covid-19.”

The pandemic forced much of the world to grind to a temporary halt, with unexpected side-effects. As Boswell notes, in a media saturated world, where emotions are ephemeral, “poetry makes space for the pause”.

“Poetry also seems to be a potent balm, not only for me but for all those for whom I have composed a piece.”

Pandemix is published by by RPCIG, Cameroon, and is on sale on Amazon and on the African Books Collective website. All proceeds go to the advancement of publishing and research in Africa.


Contact information
Prof Rose Boswell
Research Chair in Ocean Cultures and Heritage