At the beginning of the pandemic, when it seemed that the world had ended, Diane Sahms-Guarnieri felt a burning desire to document the things that she saw happening in her city, state and country.
In her book COVID-19 2020 a Poetic Journal, she captures both the tangible and intangible things that happened, the emptiness of the streets of Northeast Philadelphia during the lockdown and the uncertainty we all faced in the beginning.
“I started this as a journal to ground myself in the uncertainty and fear of the unknown,” Sahms-Guarnieri said.
The book is in chronological order starting in March when the lockdown began. It follows the year month by month, documenting the months of protests for the Black Lives Matter movement by utilizing word art — filling a whole page with just three letters: BLM repeated down the page.
Sahms-Guarnieri described, in horror, news about two 5-year-olds who died from coronavirus, one in the U.S. and another in the U.K. This poem also has word art, in this case, long pregnant pauses between words.
“I wanted readers to slow down,” Sahms-Guarnieri said. “If you stop and just have that word isolated, you’re thinking of the age of these children, and their teachers, art lessons.”
Sahms-Guarnieri captured the effect the pandemic has had on children — that along with the health risks, there were also abstract concepts for children to grasp, such as mask-wearing and social distancing.
For Sahms-Guarnieri, the simple act of walking down her street and seeing a truck with a bed full of bags reminded her of scenes that played out on television of bodies carried by the truckload in other parts of the world.
Sahms-Guarnieri’s work embodies the magnitude of feelings felt at the beginning of the pandemic. Readers are left with the heaviness that 2020 left behind, but also gratitude that they survived a truly chaotic year. It is something that could be read in the future as a history lesson, so someone who didn’t live through it can understand how the world changed in so many ways in 2020.
Sahms-Guarnieri’s book can be found on Moonstone Art Center’s online store. ••