This will be the third issue of the Oxford Is My Home zine which I’ve edited, where ‘editing’ is not about deciding which submissions pass muster, is not in fact about making any aesthetic decisions at all. The only editorial judgement I’ve applied to these works is suggesting the order in which you might like to meet them.
This fact speaks to the reason we started this publication and is what makes it so special. It’s a place where each expression is valued simply for its existence. It is a place for gathering together people’s diverse experiences of living in Oxford. And it’s a place for a ‘conversation’ between them. My deepest and warmest thanks go out to everyone who has contributed to this conversation, including our readers.
If you’ve read the previous editions, you’ll know that originally we also created the content collectively. Two local community organisations, the Oxford Poetry Library and Open House invited people from across the city to come together on one day & build a magazine about what it’s like to live in Oxford. Over tea, Pritt Stick, old books, lifestyle glossies, biscuits, games, paint pots and paper we did just that…..twice.
Publishing this issue was a significantly different experience. Where previously I had seen this work come together, and spent hours with the people who contributed, now I was meeting the pieces for the first time, and the people behind them not at all. Instead, we received submissions by email & post and are publishing them online.
A web-based zine has opened up the option of multimedia: alongside poetry, artwork, cartoons and prose, you’ll also find photographs, videos and audio recordings. There’s even an interactive story! In ‘My Lockdown’ a video allows us to enter the poet’s home, which is all the more resonant because they are self-isolating. And perhaps because these glimpses are so rare now, this feels like an intimate gift.
The coronavirus has taken away our spaces for public gathering – ‘the coffee shops, the dark temples and churches, / the buildings’ – and left us feeling like ‘Home could be anywhere right now’. And isn’t a global crisis when we most need our communities: to help us process the scale, the individual traumas, to allow us to ask ‘who else feels the same’?
Instead, people have been left alone to navigate this ‘new world they / have been teleported to’. As the author of our monologue series puts it, ‘There is no ‘I’ in team, but there definitely is in isolation.’
Alone, we’re navigating new relationships to our living spaces. We’re navigating new relationships with who we live with, or what it’s like to live in isolation, what it’s like to live without the people we most cherish. We’re even navigating new ways of shopping as deftly satirised by an 11-year-old poet. And we’re navigating how we feel about the pandemic (‘some days I like it / some days I don’t’). How to process that while in the middle of untimely deaths and economic crisis, some will still agree with the contributor who says: ‘in a way, it is restful’. Alone, we’ve had to work through all of this, to the point where some feel ‘there’s nothing new to think’, as if ‘The sky is snagged on repeat’.
And, of course, we’ve used humour to help us cope. Slug cartoons stipple throughout the zine. Photographs of home-hairdressing. Someone wryly muses about assassinating their housemates by removing a ‘2-metre rule’ poster from the shared kitchen. In ‘My Room’, the author describes how they ‘hoover like never before’ as their bedroom becomes their ‘kingdom’. There’s the cheek-tongued suffering which comes from ‘24 stress-sown Tomato plants’ when ‘my house mate doesn’t eat them.’
But some of us have had to navigate more than others. ‘I’m still having to pay rent for a room I’m not living in and the landlord has stopped answering my emails’ writes one author. Another wrestles with the lockdown rules, when ‘The man in the room above mine is not well – he is mentally ill and he has been stamping on his floor…’
And what about those who had no home to begin with? ‘This afflictiom, corona, this terrrible silent assasin has given me a place to rest my tired old bones ,in hotels ,dormitories we are being loved’ but, the author goes on, ‘HAS THE WORLD CHANGED FOR ME NO, WELCOME TO MY LIFE ,LIFE STRIPPED OF ALL THE WORDLY POSSESIONS’ (sic). The spoken word video ‘Opportunity Knocks’ cries out for us to use this virus as a mobilizer against homelessness. Another vibrant artwork provides solace to people battling against landlords who still aren’t abiding by the ‘no forced evictions’ law.
Never have our homes been such a defining feature of our mental landscape. This is why we felt it imperative to make another issue of Oxford is My Home. We put out the submissions call in April; so much changed since these pieces were created. This zine is already becoming an artefact, a memento, of this strange time. And, whenever you read this, I hope you gain the same feeling of connection to your Oxford community which I found. That it helps to have this reminder that ‘There it is: Outside / still there, Life going on.’
by Rowena Cooper