This is the seventy-first entry in the Scratching That Itch series, wherein I randomly select and write about one of the 1741 games and game-related things included in the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. The Bundle raised $8,149,829.66 split evenly between the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Community Bail Fund, but don’t worry if you missed it. There are plenty of ways you can help support the vital cause of racial justice; try here for a start. Lastly, as always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

Our next random selection from the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality is A Plague Journal At the Ides of March, 2020 and Other Pandemic Poetry, by Quinn K. Its tagline in the bundle reads:

A 60-page quarantzine about life and love in times of COVID19

“Quarantzine” is a references to zines, which are like indie magazines made in small numbers, usually with a photocopier. Zines often feature collages of images, both original and clipped from other sources, leading to a distinctive visual style that can be seen, for example, in Layabouts and Degens, the thirty-fourth entry in this series. In this case, however, the zine contains poetry.

In fact, the typical zine look is reserved for the cover, a portion of which is shown at the top of this post, and which recurs at section breaks. The rest of the zine is just the poems on stark white paper, letting the words speak for themselves. There are 19 poems within, divided into sections based roughly on subject matter. The collection opens with the title poem, which is written in almost prose, a series of short paragraphs ruminating on the COVID-19 lockdown in Vienna, Austria and the feelings and fears it inspired. Bits of mundane lockdown life are interspersed with terse declarations of fear or statements of loss. One line reads “I know at least 4 people infected, and I don’t know if that is a lot.” The poem ends with a bracketed note informing the reader that it was concluded prematurely to preserve the author’s mental health.

This comes directly following a brief interlude commenting on the situation in America, which resonated with me. Even so, even after the astounding and unnecessarily high death toll in the United States, it was strange to read this poem now, when the lockdown is ending and most people around me are fully vaccinated. It would have hit harder a year ago, when the bundle was released. But it’s a reminder of just how serious the consequences have been, just how incompetent my government was. America isn’t the only country brought to task, either. The scathing “A Feast for Boris J.” is a cathartic indictment of the British Prime Minister and his abysmal handling of the pandemic, ending with a farewell: “Sail off in your burning ship, / Till she sinks / And sing a shanty you shan’t survive.”

Another memorable poem, “A Story About Rain”, uses a similar structure to the first poem, with stanzas as paragraphs about running in the rain during lockdown. The vivid descriptions of rain prickling skin, of discomfort, of the rambling thoughts sparked by music in headphones that cannot completely drown out the anxiety of isolation, all conjured a startlingly clear image in my mind. For most of lockdown I’ve been going for runs myself, although weather patterns where I live meant my runs were rarely in the rain. Running has been important in preserving my own mental health during these times, when I otherwise rarely left my apartment and the monotony of each day became oppressive. While I generally consider running to be a solitary activity, it has nevertheless been strange to actively avoid others in the streets. My thoughts never quite ran along the same lines as Quinn K.’s in this poem, but I recognized the mental jumps and weird connections. Running lets my mind wander in a way other activities do not. I suspect this is part of why it’s been so helpful.

Most poems in the zine are less verbose. Single-line stanzas are common, and many lines are just a few words. Later sections move beyond the lockdown to cover other subjects including music, love, the author’s mental state, and some that are harder to classify. I enjoyed the ones about music especially. I love music, but find it difficult to translate the feelings it evokes into words. Quinn K. has no such problems. I don’t know what piece of music inspired “Soup Pt. 1”, but it made me think of electronica, something weird and fascinating like Plaid or The Future Sound of London. The poem is a sequence of disconnected lines, each describing some aspect of the music and managing to say a lot with just a few words. Lines like “short-circuits without fire caught, just change within a change accelerated” capture why such music intrigues me.

In fact, there’s even a music piece included with the zine, an adaptation of the poem “Chameleon” featuring vocals (partly spoken, partly sung) by Quinn K. and accompanied by acoustic and electric guitar (the electric guitar courtesy of guest clumsycolours). The aforementioned “A Feast for Boris J.” is also honored with an appearance as an extra in .png file format, sporting a fancy typeset font on textured paper. Rounding out the extras is a single comic panel image by ├ôscar Mendo, which served as the inspiration for the poem “Of Morbid Humour” in the zine.

I enjoyed reading through the poetry here, but others should be warned that some poems touch on dark or unpleasant subjects. The itch.io page has a full list of content warnings. If you think you can handle those, it’s worth taking a look at A Plague Journal At the Ides of March, 2020 and Other Pandemic Poetry. If you missed it in the bundle, it’s sold for a minimum price of $4.

That’s 71 down, and only 1670 to go!