This week’s poems:
“Hope” and “Slumber” by Danny Shot
Art by Zerbe Sodervick
Art by Brian Riley
I hope you and your loved ones are healthy and safe.
A major part of any artist’s “ordinary life” is spent making art. While the social/political/cultural environment of any given moment in time certainly has an effect on everyone’s art, some artists respond directly to those forces and some don’t. What do I mean by that statement? Well, various artists and friends are responding to COVID-19, giving me the perfect opportunity over my next two posts to illustrate the difference. What’s more exciting is that two of the artists will tell us what sparked their works.
It takes me a long time (often years) to process experiences in a way that allows for them to transform into poems. So, I’m a little in awe of artists who can incorporate big societal experiences—e.g. 9/11; COVID-19—into their work right away and make powerful pieces. Danny Shot, Zerbe Sodervick and Brian Riley have all done that in their art that responds to the ongoing pandemic.
Poet Danny Shot’s Responses to COVID-19
Poet and community activist Danny Shot lives in Hoboken, which is across the river from Manhattan. Like all of NY, NJ and CT, Hoboken was under a strictly enforced lockdown for many weeks. During those lockdown weeks Shot, who is always (at least it seems so to usually-at-home me) out and about, wrote two powerful poems. “Hope,” which addresses communal experiences of the pandemic, and “Slumber,” a poem addressing those experiences on a personal level.
“Hope” is a Whitmanesque look at the COVID-19 world. Pay attention to how Shot juxtaposes various types of details from a lament for the loss of a certain New York to “…Larry Kelly fighting, fighting, fighting/for breath…” to “the sirens passing by the front of our house” to a woman“shouting at passersby/ ‘wear a mask, don’t be an asshole’” to the plight of his friends who are teachers, Shot covers much ground in his writing. He also throws in a bit of sly humor: “I’ve caught up on/reading back issues of the New Yorker and know/as much about Bolivian politics and Fiona Apple’s/mental state as I’ll ever need to know.” Each detail carries a unique emotional tone; together they create an emotional symphony out of our experiences as a community. And isn’t the poem, above all else, a cri de coeur about the importance of community to our survival?
Visual Artist Brian Riley’s Response to COVID-19
When I asked my friend Brian Riley, a visual artist based in NJ, to send a painting directly related to COVID-19, he sent the attached image with a cryptic message about it being “COVID deep energy work.” When pressed for an explanation of that phrase he wrote:
“When COVID hit and closed my healing practice and wellness center over one week, it was a huge blow. I think I was in shock. I made nothing for two weeks then I found myself in the studio. I started making paintings of familiar shapes, things I had been making for years. I showed a painting to a friend who said, ‘Looks like a trumpet.’ Then I saw an Instagram post of a man playing taps on a trumpet. The idea of trumpets playing sad songs got stuck in my head. I repeated it over and over. Then I started drawing and the trumpet morphed into a flower shape. I had some old paint in very hospital gown colors and I started painting flowers for all the people who were dying. The COVID flower series was started.”
Visual Artist Zerbe Sodervick’s Response to COVID-19
Zerbe Sodervick, a visual artist based in Sarasota, made a work of art out of the front door of her apartment for a building-wide contest. While it was not selected, Zerbe mentioned,
“I was glad to just use my door as a platform regarding creative time/art-making in this between-space in our lives. Liminal Time — when we experience space in our lives … these betwixt and between days … no longer where we were and where we journey. What a significant gift (pause) to creative work, art-makers and innovative thinkers.
Sheryl Fullerton, from the Center for Action and Contemplation, commented in a daily meditation: ‘What if we can choose to experience this Liminal space and time, this uncomfortable now, as a place of creativity, as a place of construction and deconstruction, choice and transformation?’
A door makes a mega-sized invitation for people to stop in, see my new series and to share conversation.”
At the end of the month, we’ll be taking a look at some artists, including me, whose current work responds to COVID-19 in more indirect ways.