‘Just Breathe’

Art House Productions debuts Jersey City crowd-sourced poem

Life during a global pandemic has been stressful and anxiety-ridden for many, but some have taken that new normal and transformed it into art that captures this moment in history.

Over the last three months, Art House Productions has created a Jersey City Community Poem Project in which poets from across the state submitted poems and lines on the theme of “Life in the Pandemic and Beyond: Quarantine, Devastation, and Hope for the Future.”

After receiving submissions from 42 talented poets, Jersey City Poet Laureate Rashad Wright curated the original, crowd-sourced poem titled “Just Breathe” using lines and excerpts from each submission.

The nonprofit organization, which prides itself on its commitment to the development and presentation of the performing and visual arts in Jersey City, didn’t stop there.

It also sought video submissions from community members performing the original work. Fifty-seven performers responded, including Jersey City officials, local artists, and many of the poets themselves.

Individuals filmed themselves orating different stanzas. The clips were compiled into a an almost 11-minute video, which premiered at Art House’s Virtual Access JC Fridays on June 5.

“This project was about inclusiveness and empowering people to become active creators to express themselves through poetry, and I couldn’t be more proud of the outcome,” said Art House Producing Director Courtney Little. “I’m very impressed with the submissions we received, and Rashad’s thoughtful curation turned this project into a meaningful reflection on how it’s felt to live through this specific moment in history. The video performance is a powerful, artistic time capsule for our community, which I hope will be viewed by generations to come.”

One of the poets who also performed in the video is Jersey City’s own Crystal Davis who said the collaboration was inspiring and showed that despite the necessity of being apart, “the strength of our words brings us closer together.”

“Art House’s Community poem is an exciting and heartfelt piece that I hope will make ripples in the Jersey City Poetry Society for years to come,” said Davis. “As we move through 2020- experiencing life through COVID-19, quarantine, protesting against police brutality and for #Blacklivesmatter- local writers, poets, and artists alike became a powerful unit for a moment. We spoke for those who may have felt their concerns were unheard.”

“Community is the bedrock of society,” said Abdul Rehman Khan, who submitted poetry and performed in the video. “Without it, our sense of self falls apart. I represent tenants in court who are facing eviction- threatened with displacement from their community. Hearing the final product gave me a sense of relief and served as a reminder of my luxury- to stay at home, and partake in an endeavor like this. It was a reminder of the importance of guaranteeing decent housing for all, so that more can participate in incredible community-based projects like these.”

 Delivering digitally

Art House Productions is working creatively to deliver digital content during the pandemic as Gov. Phil Murphy has kept all performing arts centers, theaters, and other entertainment venues closed to in-person performances.

While the doors to its physical space at 262 17th St might be closed for the time being, in the coming days, weeks, and months, the nonprofit is planning to release artist features and profiles, performance videos, online galleries, and live streaming community events.

For information about upcoming digital events and features, visit https://www.arthouseproductions.org/collections/art-house-online, and follow Art House Productions on Social Media at @arthouseproductions @arthouseprods..

To view the video presentation of “Just Breathe,” visit: https://youtu.be/DQVX_0C3WjM

The poetry submissions and completed crowd-sourced poem have been published online in a virtual book. To view the book, visit: https://bit.ly/JCCommunityPoem

For more information about the community poem project, which was sponsored by the city and the  Office of Cultural Affairs, visit https://www.arthouseproductions.org/pages/jc-community-poem.

For updates on this and other stories check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Marilyn Baer can be reached at Marilynb@hudsonreporter.com.