Love Pandemic by Salimah Valiani

Love Pandemic by Salina Valiani packs a lot of food for thought inside its slim 34 pages. While there are tribute poems to family and an octopus, the text is most interesting where it is complex.

The poetry references places that aren’t ubiquitous. But we live in the age of Wikipedia and names are entry ports to other lives and places.

The text asks questions of itself and us. Love in a pandemic and its consequent isolations is in tension against the irrepressible urge to love, given any distance.   How to observe love in time of a pandemic in a world so large? What is it to love? Its answer to the latter enacted rather than said: pay attention.

Lines sometimes speak of the heart, echoing a stuttering iambic as in “On Love”, on page 1,

“I will forgo my work and play with you

I will find a way to give

in a world built and crumbling from taking”

The vow to recommit to being there for one another is energizing, earnest and elegant.

We are connected whether we choose to see one another or not. As she says plainly in “On Love” “my heart beats in yours.”

In “Flip” we are guided through the bubbles of isolation in India, South Africa and Nairobi. Yet in arid regions, we must not be swept by one uncomplicated glossy mood. “[N]o answers no questions” she insists—push on to the flowers that bloom in the desert but push on again. Don’t omit that among some flourishing, others are in famine,  (p.9) “We are so hungry we could eat the crust from a wound.”

This is no hermetically sealed lyrical poetry. Admission is granted to carcasses piled and police patrols. In “Outwards” there is everything including “330 Okavango carcasses”. It is related not to indulge a mope or rail, but not to minimalise nor omit context. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie put it, “there are other stories that are not about catastrophe, and it is very important, it is just as important, to talk about them.”

The partnered poem “Inwards” dwells in the synesthesia of small safe energizing beauties of a child’s bedroom. We acknowledge uglies, but we also attend to colour and flourishing. Are they the same weight per word or does a mention of famine linger and outweigh a ton of flowers? The contrast makes it feel uneven at times as if there are 3 books in a chapbook-length, but perhaps it will fork that way.

The book’s thesis or practice is to attempt to balance, and to see that insists on life. In “Flip”, we are brought along on a funeral where,

“along the road there are more

seedlings than trees

their chorus

smoke of a snuffed candle

is little different

to steam rising from a bathtub equal in length to a casket.”

Those two lucid tight stanzas alone could be unpacked into an essay. Life and death are tango partners. Each invokes the other.


SALIMAH VALIANI is a poet, activist, and researcher. She has published five collections of poetry: breathing for breadth (TSAR: 2005), Letter Out: Letter In (Inanna: 2009), land of the sky (Inanna: 2016), Cradles (Daraja: 2017) and 29 leads to love (Inanna: 2021).

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Daraja Press (July 25 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 30 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1990263534
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1990263538

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Pearl Pirie's WriteBulb is now available at the Apple store. A prompt app for iOS 15 and up gives writing achievement badges. Pirie’s 4th poetry collection was footlights (Radiant Press, 2020).  rain’s small gestures(Apt 9 Press, 2021), minimalist poems, won the 2022 Nelson Ball Prize. Forthcoming chapbooks from Catkin Press and Turret House. Find more at www.pearlpirie.com or at patreon.com/pearlpiriepoet