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From Notebook to Public Square: The Pop-Up Covid Art Show

January 11, 2023



By Roy Hoffman, faculty, fiction and creative nonfiction



Although I don’t consider myself a poet, over the years I’ve made countless word sketches in my notebooks—images, meditations, responses to heightened moments. Sometimes I share these lines with family and friends, or offer them, typed up from my crabbed handwriting, as gifts on special occasions. During quarantine, 2020, I found myself turning often to this intimate form of expression.


Easel with Roy Hoffman verses, assemblage by Lynn Yonge

One evening of that surreal time, while socially distancing with friends in my Alabama town, I read aloud Covid jottings. Hearing them, Lynn Yonge, a physician friend who dedicates free time to artmaking, had an idea: a pop-up Covid art show, my verses part of it. He put print-outs of my stanzas behind plexiglass on an easel, stationed it on a stand out front of the Fairhope Eastern Shore Art Center, and invited pieces from an art group he’d founded, Gulf Space. What came in, surrounding my poetry, were works witty, poignant, and political.


As folks ambled the streets, eager to stretch their limbs during lockdown, they’d pause to explore the outdoor display, titled “Corona.” Many wanted to comment on the art or talk to me about what I’d written, eager to express their own reactions to a crisis, locally and globally, no one of our era had experienced before.


I was reminded of the power of language, and art, to engage, to set dialogue in motion, and how one aesthetic form adds dimension to another. We might hope to create for the ages, but addressing the moment has a value all its own, from a pen to the town square, where each passerby can dream their own images, tell their own stories, to connect and heal.


FAIRHOPE PANDEMIC, by Roy Hoffman

March & April 2020


1. INTERTWINED

“Smell the Glove,” Drawing, JD Crowe

On a first sultry night,

Beneath a silver moon surrounded

By the shimmering light

Of a quiescent bay,

He sat in the middle of a

Pandemic.


If it were only him

In the world

It would seem another

Of his fictions, invented

Tales to reach a deeper truth.


But the rabbi had said

In the virtual service where

None could touch but

Came together to pray:

“We are all intertwined.”

“Results: Positive,” assemblage by Lynn Yonge

So he sat alone but was

Not. What others endured

He could not turn away.

If others gasped he listened to

Their inhalations, exhalations,

If their families

Wept behind glass

He heard them, too.


The absence of any human

As far as he could see

Was the sounding of

An alarm, a voice

Reminding,

“We are close.

Know us in this hour,

Recognize what we are

All going through

Deep in our bones.”


2. RISK

“Corona Cells,” colored string, Pinky Bass

In the contagion

we seek the wind

on the pier,

the sky surging with

blue, the sounds of

our voices

closer to each other

than we can be

except to those

We risk to love.


3. DANGER


So easy this breeze,

Glorious this sun,

It is hard to imagine that,

On the walking path,

We veer away

From each other lest we

Infect each other

With our breath.


4. NO STRANGER

“Live Free or Die,” by Bruce Larsen, about protests against Covid restrictions

In the Publix aisle your eyes above the mask,

Red bandana or light-blue cloth,

Makes me guess your name,

Even your voice, muffled,

Doesn’t give you away.

When you slip down the protection

We greet each other, long familiar

From the neighborhood—

That fun dinner gathering,

The big birthday party—

It’s that easy, these days, to conceal.

Once the terror has passed

Let’s remember to take stock

Of each other,

Watching, listening, imprinting

What’s unmistakable about

Every remarkable soul.


 

Roy Hoffman, a member of the fiction and creative nonfiction faculty of the Naslund-Mann Graduate School of Writing, is author of six books, most recently the novel The Promise of the Pelican. www.royhoffmanwriter.com

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