ARC Fellows: Sore Thumbs

ARC Fellows: Sore Thumbs

Submitted by our 2020 Poetry and the Senses Poetry Fellow:

Alex Saum-Pascual (Spanish & Portuguese and Berkeley Center for New Media)

I haven’t read a book in weeks. I spend all my reading hours glued to my phone. By the time I am done scrolling words, I feel motion sickness. My right thumb is sort of numb too. When I was a teenager I would go to my friend’s house and play Street Fighter until I got blisters. I am not one for originality, so you can safely guess it was thumb blisters for Ryu, Ken, or Chun-Li. I have been traveling on my screen of news since the pandemic started and I don’t even recall when that was. I read in the NYT that yesterday was now approximately six and a half years ago. It was a note about writers’ creativity during trying times. It said something about Camus and the Plague, Steinbeck and the Great Depression and Cervantes and the Inquisition. It also said something about how Don Quixote was published about a century into the Spanish Inquisition—but you know, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. OK, this was not in that essay, this was some sketch by Monty Python. I already said that I was never one for originality and that I haven’t read a book in weeks and that I have not been able to write anything for about six and a half years ago plus times the days since the pandemic started.

The NYT essay in question, “Someday, We’ll Look Back on All of This and Write a Novel” by Sloane Crosley, came with a photo of one of Matt Dorfman’s artist books, Love in the Time of COVID-19. Dorfman is not one for originality either. I also named the doodle where my students sign up to my new Zoom Office Hours “OH in the Time of COVID-19,” so I guess we are all on the same page here. It’s the page of not being able to read a book in six and a half years plus plus plus whatever time. Or not being able to write a word of poetry in six and half years plus plus plus plus plus plus whatever.

I wasn’t expecting this blog post to be about thumb blisters and confinement puns, but nobody expected the Spanish flu either. You hear a lot about the 1918 pandemic these days. Two months ago, or 142,350 days roughly in coronadays, I had planned to write about a new poetry series I called corporate poetry [<>], which was meant to be an exploration into how corporate language captures that other corpora that is our bodies. I made a couple of interactive poems I called “rooms.” They were equal parts bright salt and dark and gloomy cobalt blue. But perhaps because, without me knowing it then, they were also a project on confinement, I feel unable to step into any of those rooms these days.

My son turns three this week and we’ll be doing a Zoom sing-a-long to connect his room to others. For roughly 142,350 days, Zoom has turned into another room for us. The corporate room. Perhaps here’s the poem I was looking for. I made a giraffe out of a pair of socks, turning myself slowly into a giraffe in the process as a good friend said. I am not used to sewing, so my thumbs hurt a little. I didn’t get blisters though.

Alex Saum-Pascual is Associate Professor of Spanish at the University of California, Berkeley, where she teaches Contemporary Spanish Literature and Culture (20th and 21st Centuries) and Electronic Literature (Digital Humanities). Her academic work on digital media and literature in the Spanish-speaking world has been published in Spain, Mexico and the United States. Her digital artwork and poetry has been exhibited in galleries and art festivals in the United States and abroad.

*Image of Love in the Time of Covid-19, Matt Dorfman via The New York Times:

Note: Over the course of the spring semester, each 2020-2021 ARC Fellows will submit a short blog post about their project. We hope you will enjoy these short readings! Poetry and the Senses will create meaningful opportunities for engagement, research, and collaboration. As a think tank for the arts at UC Berkeley, ARC will act as a facilitator and connector between the campus and the many flourishing regional poetry communities. This two-year initiative (Jan 2020 – Dec 2021) explores the relevance and urgency of lyrical making and storytelling in times of political crisis, and the value of engaging the senses as an act of care, mindfulness, and resistance. To learn more about the program, click here.