According to data provided by the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center as of June 17, 2020, more than 4 million individuals have recovered from COVID-19 around the world. No statistics have been published on COVID-19 survivors that edited or published a book during recovery. However, former dentist, artist, and poet, Mahnaz Badihian, did just that, as she publishes her first book titled “A Distant Desert, PLAGUE 2020: COVID-19 POETRY AND ART FROM AROUND THE WORLD.”
In the book, Badihian harvested the creative powers of close to three hundred artists and poets, representing 35 countries from Nepal to Nigeria, Mexico to the United States, South Africa, Peru, Nepal, Canada, and India to Iran.
The results are compelling, often challenging readers to heed the urgency of Camus’ words and the climate of the pandemic, killing more than 150,000 in the US and millions around the world. A resident of San Francisco, Badihian’s reach into the creative powers of this ocean of poets and artists resulted in thousands of submissions. Consequently, the daunting tasks of pruning to literary harvest also became a balm for her spirit and allowed her to go the distance. She began organizing the submissions while in quarantine, with her daughter’s name at the beginning of the book.
The excitement of the anthology, her fierce spirit, and of course, access to good medical care kept her going day to day while defying the odds of surviving. The anthology is an outpouring of 130 poems reflecting the isolation, grief, and longings that people around the world feel in the grip of this pandemic.
Some of the poems are written by seasoned poets, such as former San Francisco Poet, Laureate Jack Hirschman (The Sur Ivan O Roc Arcane), and others by students, whose voices are blooming across the terrain of the creative world, including Sri Lankan student, Aruchelvan Karteheyen. Badihian’s poem “Plague 2020” launches the collection, which includes seasoned and freshly minted poets and artists with five-year-old Saviz B. Khan being the youngest.
Some of the visual artists are refugees, including Thupten Shashimo, originally from Tibet and Rajkumar Paul, whose “Even Gods Fear Corona” draws the viewer deep into the sad and searching eyes of a masked woman and the virus seizing her. Also featured in the collection is the award-winning Mexican novelist, poet, and head of the World Poetry Festival, Dr. Yuri Zambarano. In the last stanza of his foreboding and potent poem, “Meanwhile,” “the old Charon carrying out Hades, is greeting me from his dark boat it is like a psycho-ferry crowded with sallow passers-by Ash-colored faces permanently dance with the shrillest barking.”
While some poems edify humanity, others aim to remand readers to the status of fossils to be studied by civilizations millenniums away. Whatever the tools and methods people are using to recover gives hope that these piercing and sometimes endearing images can result in humans grounding themselves in the formation of a newly discovered side to humanity that emboldens everyone to walk this Earth with a newfound reverence and dignity for the grounds on which they walk and neighbors, teachers, leaders, healthcare providers, and most especially, the children, who are the future of all societies.
For Badihian this book was her place of healing from COVID-19 as she finds joy and embrace fellow poets and artists and her transformative vision as an artist and poet.