Yam Chew Oh, The cradle, 2019. Used wire from funeral tent and cardboard packaging; found wooden structure, rubber tubing, plastic knob; and acrylic paint. Approx. 17 6/8 x 12 6/8 x 16 1/2 inches.

Artwork by Featured Artist Yam Chew Oh

The picture window has become our emotional mood board. Depending upon the refraction of light, whether through the diffuse glow of sunset or the halation created by dappling streetlamps, we can see, as if in palimpsest, the damp imprint of yearning fingers, the bulbous kiss from a pressed nose (be it from a dog or a curious child), the bow-shaped surprise of a goodbye kiss, or the uneven smear of a forehead drooped in a despair of waiting. Look closely and you will discover a universal story: that of the necessity of human connection. How many of us miss the teeming world outside?  The happy buzz of a movie theater before the lights darken and the show begins? The content clamor of museumgoers wandering the vast exhibition halls?

These last two months have been battering; many of us wake from our beds and approach the day feeling punched in the face. Perhaps others find it taxing to roll out of bed at all. But still more have heroically attended to their responsibilities and stubbornly elected to be an essential part of this world, whether the caregivers who with great courage and resolve have battled COVID-19 on the front lines, or the teachers who refused to crumble under pressure and taught their hearts out under constraints they had no way of anticipating.

Then there are the students, who have bore up under great pressure, some robbed of their day in the sun when graduation ceremonies were canceled, many others baffled by the limitations of quarantine, barred from their families and forced to communicate under artificial lighting through the unforgiving cameras of Zoom. No one is immune to the awkwardness of the age, one that the art critic Peter Schjeldahl seemingly predicted when he referred to “an age of cascading insecurities” in 2015. Of course, he could not have foreseen the disaster unleashed by COVID-19.

Contrary to White House belief, there is no limit switch that will automatically kick over and shut the furnace at the heart of this epidemic before we are definitively boiled over. There are no pat prescriptions that will do the trick; this virus will not vanish “like a miracle;” you cannot inject cleaning products into your veins and expect your blood to clarify the issue.

So yes, life right now is challenging, disorienting, and full of fearful possibilities. One day blends into the next, Saturday the same as Monday, as if the hours had been machined by a cold and omnipotent manufactory. But if life has no fixed meridian, since I feel unmoored from time (as, perhaps, some of you do as well) then I choose to float far from the surface of the earth and lose myself in the heady atmosphere of literature and art. I refuse to bow down to the darkness at the root of despair. I won’t keep The Velvet Underground’s “The Black Angel’s Death Song” on zombie repeat–I’d rather blast “Fairytale in the Supermarket” by The Raincoats, which makes me stupidly happy, for reasons I can’t explain.

Like all of you reading this, I have an ace up my sleeve: we all have the capacity to create, the capacity to imagine, and the capacity to dream. In many ways I feel luckier than most because, to be quite honest, I am rarely bored. Each day I strive to make good use of my time, by dipping into books humming with secret power, or immersing myself in arpeggios of sound, or experiencing the apparition of neon contentment as a work of art wraps itself around my forebrain. If you’re eager for the same rush of inspiration, and can spare the time, then you don’t even have to knock: the door is open.

There is plenty to entertain and enlighten you in this issue. The gorgeously titled poem “Seafoam Blue” by Ava Mancino is an epic vision in miniature, whose lines rest on a cushion of wrack. Imani Andwele’s exuberant voice in “Everything is Marigold” and “Burj Khalifa” will raise your spirits. Sam Stoich’s coruscating concoction, “Nearly Spilling Over,” revels in its striking form, while Ariel Yeh’s poem about our important connection to nature will remind you of what we will regain once again. Mona Monahan’s “Neon Graveyard” takes up an unusual subject: a cemetery where broken-down signs are sent when they give over to their final flickering. If you wish to learn how not to prepare a salmon fillet, then “2 P.M Monday” by Qizi Yu will prove particularly instructive. Ariana Gupta’s feminist poem asks “What is a woman if not a prize to be won?” and its quicksilver narrative thread serves as decisive riposte to anyone who had ever considered a woman as a trophy for the mantle.

If you are a reader of fiction, then you will enjoy “A Sudden Feeling of Anger” by Catherine Brothers, a story about a young woman who experiences a burst of rage over the common adult malady: misunderstanding of youth. Matthew Torres’s “The Man at the End of His Life” is a tale about a bereaved and stunted widower who finds himself transformed into a “clockwork man.” “Aneurysm” by Kes Trainor is a dive into the fantastic which takes as its setting an unlikely yet wholly magical place: a library. Siqi Lao’s brief impressionistic story explores death by seemingly exploiting the color scale, with its “bruise purples” and “muddy yellows,” and Charlie Cluff’s affecting “Coronavirus” gives us an idea of quarantine as freighted with more than one meaning.

There are also intellectual sorties in the form of the essay. “Permutations” by Rachel Stephens is rife with philosophical musings, and Amina Fofana’s “Brooklyn, We Inhaled” delves into a romantic interlude in Brooklyn Bridge Park, which is brushed with a tinge of sadness. Yitian Shao provides us with a dispatch concerning a quarantine experience in China, and Margaret Lin gives us an incisive analysis of the filmed adaptation of Shakespeare’s deathless play, Macbeth. Jane Grogan, in her piece “Gooodbye House,” reminisces about all the poignant experiences hatched under one cherished roof.

I’ve written a review of Stephen Wright’s brilliant satirical novel, Processed Cheese, which I hope that you will enjoy, and I am proud to announce that we have a new feature this issue, Coronavirus Chronicles. Here you will find various reactions to this devastating global pandemic, from students as well as instructors, who have created collages, drawings, essays, and videos.  I welcome submissions to this category for the fall issue, so feel free to send your poems, stories, essays, drawings, photographs, videos, and whatever else serves to surpassingly express your vision of the troubled and amazing world.

The inventive featured artist of this issue is none other than Yam Chew Oh, faculty member of the Humanities and Sciences Department. I’m very proud to have Yam Chew’s gorgeous work grace this issue.

Finally, congratulations to all of the contest winners of the Eighth Annual Writing Contest! The dedication you devote to the craft of writing is emboldening for any instructor of the written arts, and I am particularly struck by the breadth of imagination and wisdom falling away from such young minds.

Thank you to Colin Goldberg, for his aesthetic expertise and his kind patience as he waits for me to churn out what I hope is worthwhile prose. Thank you as well to Kyoko Miyabe, PhD, Acting Chair of the Humanities and Sciences Department, and Laurie Johenning and Susan Kim, without whom no task finds it completion at SVA. Appreciation must also be expressed for the work done by the judges of the Eighth Annual Writing Contest, whose critical acumen and open-heartedness made for an interesting selection of winners. And I also want to thank you, students and fellow faculty, for believing in the power of education and powering through the semester, with no diminution of energy, to the end.