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Nov 17, 2012

Creating Art in the Midst of a Storm?

Below is a blog that I wrote several days after Hurricane Sandy, but never got around to posting. So, here it is. Posted:

As New York works to regain some sense of normalcy after Hurricane Sandy, I've found myself consistently thinking about one particular thing—artistic sensitivity (and artistic necessity?) in the midst of a disaster. I've been thinking about this so much that I'm not exactly sure where to start, so I'll just delve into it.

On November 2nd, several days after Sandy hit, my husband was scheduled to appear at KGB Bar in the East Village to celebrate the release of his first book of poetry, Enduro's Lament. This was years of writing and months of preparation in the making. Despite the storm and its affects, the books found their way safely to Brooklyn in time. And thus popped up the big question: Do we still hold the reading when so many people are still suffering and dealing with the hurricane's after-effects? Enter internal debate.

Enduro's Lament chilling at the KGB Bar
Are we being insensitive if we hold the reading? Could this actually be a significant and beautiful thing if we proceed as planned? Does the venue even have electricity? Will we be safe?

Kyle was steadfast in his resolve: we would proceed with the reading even if it meant reading a couple of poems on the street by candlelight with no one else around. I'm his wife, so of course I said I was “in.” But, not before I asked several of the aforementioned internal battle questions.

Our friend and fellow poet Steven Leyva was coming all the way from Baltimore. Kyle explained to him before he left, “My number one goal is for everyone to be safe”, to which Steven replied, “Are you saying you don't want me to come?” Kyle told him to come if he wanted to, and not to if he didn't. Steven said point blankly, “I'm coming.”

That brought the count up to three: me, Kyle, and Steven. Our sweet friends Mary and Colin originally planned on coming to the reading and when we told them they didn't have to walk the two hours from Brooklyn to Manhattan with us they said, “Whatever, let's do it!”

The four of us walked the Manhattan Bridge with hundreds of other New Yorkers, entered Chinatown  where electricity was spottily being turned on, and made our way to KGB Bar. We stood on the stoop waiting for Steven to arrive (who was walking from Penn Station) and fully expected that once we were all united, we would read a couple of poems on the dark street and then head back home. The series of events that happened next seemed magical.

KGB bartender Louie strolled up and we couldn't believe it. He said, “We're opening the bar. We have electricity.” We all staggered up the steps to the bar where the lights were turned on, the music began to play, and we prepared for our reading. KGB Bar owner, Denis, later showed up to say how glad he was that we were there and how much he appreciated us. And then, we had a book release party. I introduced the night's only reader, Kyle, who shared several beautiful selections from the book. Mary, Colin, Steven, and I laughed and listened as we imbibed and drank in the magical atmosphere of the night. I knew then and there, we had made the right decision.

Kyle and I with KGB Bar owner, Denis, after the reading.
The next day I was still thinking about the same question though, “Is it insensitive to hold an event, such as we did, when people are suffering around us?” The New York marathon was canceled because of essentially the same thought (although slightly different because people claimed the marathon would take relief efforts that should go to those affected by the hurricane, despite NYRR's rebuttal that in actuality, that wouldn't be happening). NYRR said that the marathon would raise morale and bring resources into the city. But the contention rose to such a height that authorities officially canceled the marathon.

During the Great Depression, the one area that continued to thrive was the arts. People wanted and needed an escape.

After 9/11, Saturday Night Live and Conan O'Brien continued their shows (although make no mistake, 9/11 was an act of man as opposed to an act of nature).

And in the after-math of Hurricane Sandy, and on a much smaller and personal scale, a poetry reading in the East Village happened.

I believe in giving help and aid to those in need. I'm not saying we should turn a blind eye or bury our heads in the sand just to put on a show. And I'm not saying we should unwisely jeopardize our safety to fulfill some prior obligation. But there is something healing about bringing art into a hurting situation. Laughter heals. Poetry heals. Coming together heals.

So I guess to answer my own question, give of your time. Help others. Be safe. And create beautiful, healing art.

You can read Steven's wonderful account of the evening HERE.

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