A Big Issue vendor’s poignant poem recounting 100 days of lockdown has been published in a new anthology demonstrating widening inequalities during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Prolific poet Earl John Charlton, who sells the magazine at Newcastle Central Station and previously struggled with addiction and homelessness, penned the quick-fire poem in 10 minutes while shielding from the virus and submitted his effort to Church Action on Poverty’s (CAP) ‘Same Boat?’ project.
CAP published the anthology and accompanying short film this week to tie in with Challenge Poverty Week in England and Wales.
Earl read the poem, in a video especially for The Big Issue.
Earl, who was forced to cancel a charity boxing match in lockdown as he shielded from Covid-19 due to his underlying health conditions, is “chuffed” to see his name in print.
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“I’m absolutely over the moon – the last time my name was titled on anything would be my bail sheet,” he joked.
“It’s so positive and seeing the book itself says everything – we are all in the same boat through this and everyone has their own experience of things.
“Seeing my name on the book I was really chuffed with it. I thought, ‘Wow, I’ve done it’. I’ve been recognised for something positive and for 25 years I’ve been acknowledged for the wrong things.
“Coming out of addiction and homelessness I’m patting myself on the back at how quickly I’ve managed to turn things around. It’s a stepping stone for me just being acknowledged.”
Both the anthology and the short film are the result of creative workshops CAP ran throughout the spring and summer, looking at the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on people on low incomes.
I’ve been recognised for something positive and for 25 years I’ve been acknowledged for the wrong things
Led by CAP’s poet-in-residence Matt Sowerby, the anthology brings together works by people with experience of poverty and is intended to dispel prevailing myths and clichés as well as challenging people to ensure that society after the pandemic is more just and compassionate.
Ben Pearson, Food Power officer at Church Action on Poverty, said of the project: “Working creatively together, alongside activists and allies, has seen a community grow online, where people have learnt new skills, met new people, and shared thoughts and feelings about lockdown and poverty.”
Earl’s friendship with Jeremy Cain, an outreach worker with St Mary’s Cathedral offshoot Mercy Hub, introduced him to the CAP project.
Jeremy told The Big Issue: “I think Earl is amazing, his story is inspiring and he continues to make the best of himself.
“We have been helping Earl apply for jobs and looking at college courses with him to achieve his dream of helping others who are in the position he was.
“That’s just the kind of guy he is and his place in the anthology is just well-deserved success.”
Earl will be participating in Thursday’s launch by delivering his poem in a live open mic night over Zoom. Tune in to see him in action.