“Where were you during the coronavirus pandemic of 2020,” will become a common query of us by generations to come. Some of us will respond with poetry–there’s been plenty of time to write, and America’s poets have answered Covid-19 with verse. Notably among them is Daniel Mark Epstein, who recently launched a series of sonnets created during the early days of the shelter-in-place order.
Dubbed “Cruel April: Poems from the Pandemic,” Epstein’s suite of ten sonnets explore the world as it has become, and our roles in it. “They are part of a larger sequence of sonnets that explore the themes of isolation, danger, and the strangeness of our new reality,” Epstein explains. “The themes include the anguish of loved ones being separated, the dangers of the virus to young and old alike, and the healing power of love.”
Though believed to have been originally conceived as a form to be read silently, the sonnet’s intrinsic musicality of fourteen lines of rhymed iambic pentameter lend itself to being shared aloud, and as such, Epstein, whose own accolades include National Endowment for the Arts and Guggenheim fellowships, tapped stars of the screen and stage to record themselves reading the poems: Emmy award-winning actors Tyne Daly and Paul Hecht, voice over narrator Jennifer Van Dyck, and screen legend Harris Yulin provided their voices, while visuals created at the Tivoli Arts Gallery in New York accompany the readings. As such, the series of poems is very much a multi-sensory endeavor.
Pestilence as poetic inspiration is hardly new–the Illiad opens with Apollo punishing the Greeks with nine-day plague, while the protagonists of Boccacio’s Decameron flee a disease-riddled Florence–and even now, Knopf has already published a volume of poetry created during the pandemic. “Cruel April,” meanwhile, is not a commercial enterprise–the poems are freely available online–and are intended to inspire and rally viewers to the notion that, despite our struggles with calamity and death, we can persevere, united and strong.
New York City is the current epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, its citizens in nonessential professions ordered to stay home in an attempt to slow the virus’s deadly march and prevent a catastrophic overload of the local health care system. Images of a city stripped of people are sobering in their eerie solitude.
Politicans, celebrities, and civic leaders have been spreading the word about why such drastic measures are necessary and how each of us has a role to play in combatting a disease with no vaccine or cure. New York City’s Poster House has redirected its education efforts by encouraging the city’s denizens to look out for one another through a series of specially-designed posters, for which the museum turned to designer Rachel Gingrich. Bathed in cobalt blue and rendered in a punchy collage style, Gingrich’s three digital-only posters are available for downloaded here.
Earlier this week, Poster House released another series of PSA posters by its in-house designer Mihoshi Fukushima Clark, also available for download. Clark’s surprisingly upbeat series focuses on spreading the facts on social distancing and proper handwashing while also addressing the feelings of loneliness and isolation many of us are experiencing. As the virus has spread, so too, unfortunately, have xenophobia and anti-Asian racism. After learning about an increase in attacks on Asians, Clark created this series in an effort to remind viewers that we are all in this together.
Having only opened to the public last summer, Poster House is the first museum in the United States wholly devoted to exploring the history of posters and their role in shaping public perception on everything from cigarettes to disease prevention. Posters are designed to present information quickly, and successful posters convey their messages in five seconds or less.
In conjunction with the museum’s current exhibition on Chinese propaganda The Sleeping Giant, Poster House had been in the midst of a project collaboration with stir-fry doyenne and James Beard award-winner Grace Young. That project has been put on hold, but as word got out about racial discrimination due to fears concerning Covid-19, Young went to Chinatown to document the toll on the Asian community. Filmed on March 15, less than 48 hours before Mayor de Blasio mandated all city restaurants to close, Part 1 shows Young walking through a neighborhood at the vanguard of what would soon envelop the entire country. The scenes feel like they were shot a lifetime ago.
Stay strong, stay safe, readers: We will get through this, together.
Word spread yesterday via electronic listservs frequented by rare book dealers, collectors, and librarians that a New York International Antiquarian Book Fair exhibitor tested positive for the novel coronavirus COVID-19. The NYIABF was held March 5-8, just as the virus began appearing in the city. As expected, the news caused a flurry of anxious replies to the thread. In response, the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America released this statement:
“We have no authority to reveal the identity of the individual … diagnosed in their home country yesterday, 11 days after being at the fair. An officer of the ABAA contacted a state Department of Infectious Disease who has confirmed that given our exposure to all of those at the NYIABF and surrounding activities, the most important thing for people to be doing at this time is to continue social distancing, monitor your individual health and if you have concerns about your personal health contact your health care provider or physician.”
Then, this morning, we heard from the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers that more exhibitors were affected and have given permission to share their status, including Pom Harrington of London’s Peter Harrington and ILAB’s secretary, Angelika Elstner, who is based in South Africa. Harrington said in a statement, “Angelika and I both returned from New York sick as did Adrian Harrington, Alicia Bardon, Dan Whitmore, and James Cummins, Jr. I know there are others poorly. Angelika fortunately managed to get tested in Cape Town which is better than the rest of us, and had a positive result. It is reasonable to assume the rest of us here are also positive for Coronavirus. We are all recovering well and some are recovered already. To everyone else, if you have symptoms you must isolate yourself.”
As for the delay in relaying this information, ILAB president Sally Burdon emphasized the “as soon as Angelika’s test was returned positive no time was wasted in letting both the ABAA and ILAB know. Angelika tried to get tested immediately on her return but her doctor told her she did not have COVID-19 but to stay at home and rest. It was only because of a change in circumstances in South Africa where she lives that she was able to get a test and she went to get the test literally at the very first opportunity. My understanding is that others named were not able to get tested. Getting a test in many countries is not easy and in some countries not possible at all if you do not have extreme symptoms.”
Burdon continued, “I would like to thank Pom Harrington, Angelika Elstner and the others he named for coming forward in this way and hope that everyone will understand how very difficult this situation is and support them and all of our colleagues who are ill at this time. This is not something anyone would wish for. Pom’s email emphasises the international nature of the virus and while telling us that no one is immune it also reminds us we are all in this together and need to act accordingly. I also have also heard anecdotally that the Maastricht Fair also has had people return ill from it. As we all know this virus is prevalent.”
Ok, we’re all home, but we can keep boredom at bay with great books. Abby, our roving 5th grade reporter, has stepped up with video book reviews for kids of all ages. Accompanying each review will be pertinent data (publisher, price, etc.) and links to where books are available in both digital and print format.
Here is Abby’s welcome video for a series we’re calling, “Book Reviews from Inside the Hot Zone.” The Hot Zone refers to where we are currently located–that this, a stone’s throw from New Rochelle. Be safe everyone. We will get through this together.