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Syracuse University, College of Arts and Sciences

Sheltering in Poetry

Virtual readings draw hundreds worldwide.

May 13, 2020, by Dan Bernardi

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The poetry collection, "Corresponding Voices," features the work of renowned and emerging poets from around the world.

Poets and poetry lovers from around the world came together for the virtual Cruel April reading series that culminated Point of Contact’s programming this academic year. According to organizers, the streamed poetry readings drew unprecedented audiences, with over 700 people tuning in. Founded by the late Syracuse University Professor Pedro Cuperman in 2005, “the series is intended to be a dialogue among poets across cultures,” says Tere Paniagua ’82, Executive Director of the Office of Cultural Engagement for the Hispanic Community at the College of Arts & Sciences, and co-editor of Point of Contact’s annual poetry collection, “Corresponding Voices.”

The annual series of live readings features internationally renowned and emerging poets who are invited to submit unpublished work for the annual publication. This year marks the 13th volume of the “Corresponding Voices” collection, co-edited by New York poet and part-time instructor of English, Jules Gibbs and Le Moyne College professor Josefa Alvarez.

“Relief from Isolation”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the live readings were moved from the Point of Contact Gallery in Syracuse to poets’ homes around the world. Poet Raquel Salas Rivera streamed her reading from San Juan, Puerto Rico; Spanish poet Ana Merino streamed her reading from Madrid, Spain; Erika Martinez streamed from Granada, Spain, and Natalie Scenters-Zapico from Tacoma, Washington. “It was very moving to see our community come together to sort of shelter in poetry,” says Paniagua. “The COVID19 pandemic was peaking in Spain and here in New York at the time of the readings. It was a great relief from the sense of isolation that we all felt.”

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Sara Felice G’18, Point of Contact Gallery director

Point of Contact's Gallery Director, Sara Felice G’18, and Gallery Assistant, Sheridan Bishoff G’20, spearheaded the effort to produce the virtual program when the gallery had to close to the public in mid-March. “We have discovered there is a much larger audience for our programs beyond our Syracuse city limits, and we want to continue to reach those audiences. This will certainly change how we conduct our programming in the future, as the gallery will adopt a hybrid model of in person and online accessibility,” says Felice. Following the growing popularity of the virtual poetry readings, with people tuning in from over a dozen states, Puerto Rico, Spain and cities in South America, the group plans to share more of their events online once the gallery reopens.

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Sheridan Bishoff G’20, Point of Contact Gallery assistant

A Remedy for Mind, Body and Soul

For Bishoff, who received a master’s degree in Art History this spring, the poetry reading sessions provided a sense of comfort during such a stressful and uncertain time. “As a final semester graduate student, Cruel April was a palliative remedy during the COVID-19 pandemic, treating the mind, body, and soul,” Bishoff says. “Our poets were happy to present their work through a live stream, and while this was a new platform for many, each poet spoke with brilliance. For me, assisting with this poetry series was inspiring and reassured the significance of art in the world. Artists provide a light in the darkest of times.”

Bishoff will continue to work at Point of Contact through the summer, assisting in the planning of upcoming exhibits and in the creation of a digital catalog of the Point of Contact archive. “Point of Contact was able to rise to the occasion with bilingual poetry readings, a new publication, and plans for more virtual programming in a time where many are struggling. Through social media and the numerous platforms online, the digital era enables Point of Contact to bring artists from around the world to our classrooms and to our homes. I am grateful to be a member of the team,” says Bishoff.

To watch any of the readings from the Cruel April series, visit Point of Contact’s Facebook page. The 13th volume of the Corresponding Voices poetry collection, a bilingual edition, will be released in print in September of 2020 and can be preordered now.

This program is supported by the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S), the Coalition of Museum and Art Centers, the Department of Languages, Literatures and Linguistics, the New York State Council on the Arts, CNY Arts and Poets & Writers.

Point of Contact, Inc., is an arts organization in residence at Syracuse University, creating opportunities for the exploration of diversity and the exchange of ideas through the verbal and visual arts. Point of Contact is a collaborative, cross-disciplinary forum where artists, writers, scholars and students actively engage in the production of publications, art exhibitions and events to enrich the cultural mix of our society.