Every Second Feels Like Theft
Fabric cyanotypes, 9x12”, 2020
In March of 2020, the world shifted and stayed askew: the pandemic and its ensuing lockdown tore enormous fault lines through the identities, roles, friendships, and loves of many people around the globe. For them, the earth still moves with the aftershock of so many people gone, so many irrevocably changed. For others – restricted to the same rooms, the same screens, the same faces, and the same voices – the pandemic didn't bring about drastic change so much as it did a cloying, suffocating sameness. For nearly two years, in almost every nation, we’ve had to either rebuild our sense of ourselves, and our relationships with those around us, or we’ve had to reinvent our daily practices so that we again feel something akin to wonder and surprise.
Within 82 manuscript pages of alternating images and text, the material and the incorporeal combine to reflect our changing pandemic lives. Quarantine forced most of us to spend more time inside our homes than ever before – but it also invited us to spend more time outside than we’d done previously, distanced from other people but closer to the natural world.
Printed with the sun, the cyanotypes in this book record these brief moments of time outside. Both poet and artist observe, and sometimes marvel at, the brutal and enduring activity of the wasps, crickets, cicadas, mice, rabbits, and birds. “Every Second Feels Like Theft” is full of their wings, their songs, their beating hearts and sometimes their torn, broken bodies. It’s also full of the miscellany collected, used, reused, and discarded during lockdown (broken plates; abandoned egg shells; neglected houseplants; scans from medical appointments; forgotten nylons; plastic bags; lawn ornaments) and the ephemera of physical lives (baby teeth, locks of hair, beard shavings, nail clippings).
The process of creating a cyanotype and watching the rich blue emerge over time is itself a metaphor for the absurd struggles of the pandemic. Through the artist’s images, the humor and joy of forced time with family is revealed. This contrasts with and complements the poems, which puzzle through the sameness and silence of quarantine, the listlessness of isolation, and the slow burn of our changing relationships. Together, image and text reflect emotions the pandemic made more prevalent and more extreme in our lives: our fears, our anxieties, our devotions, our whims, our regrets, and our loves.
Structured as a call-and-response, this manuscript is similar in its collaborative approach to Elizabeth Bradfield and Antonio Contro’s Theorum, or AmyGerstler and Alexis Smith’s Past Lives, or Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec’s Dear Data. Offering solidarity to those who felt alone and abandoned, unmoored and uninspired during the pandemic’s first waves, this collection will appeal to readers who seek recognition and validation of their pandemic experiences, recalling the catharsis offered by Maggie Smith’s recent Keep Moving.
These poems and images document how it is possible to endure the volatile and unpredictable world, particularly when it’s in crisis. With “Every Second Feels Like Theft,” interdisciplinary artist Meredith Starr and poet Sarah Kain Gutowski examine how a global tragedy brought with it smaller domestic and interpersonal tragedies; how stasis and isolation forced us to confront new and old demons; how coping mechanisms saved or failed us; and how we emerged from our homes wiser and more resilient than before, cautiously optimistic, with new perspectives and new priorities for the years to come.
Every Second Feels Like Theft was exhibited at the 10th Annual New York City Poetry Festival on Governors Island, NYC, on June 24 & 25 of 2021.