Local poets and performers tackle America’s most heartbreaking issue on the anniversary of the Parkland shooting.
John Sims is a conceptual artist, writer and filmmaker. He’s not afraid of dangerous topics. You wouldn’t think love would be one of them. But love is on Sims’ mind.
It’s at the heart of “SquareRoot of Love,” Sims’ ongoing artistic project. His collaboration is returning to Sarasota this Valentine’s Day, but Cupid gets no credit. He’s been working on it for years.
The project was born in 2010. It started out as Sims’ artistic collaboration with Karen Finley in New York City, where he captured their gumbo of performance and visual art on film. Sims’ edgy documentary premiered at the Sarasota Film Festival in 2012, accompanied by a joint performance with area-based poets and musicians. Locally, that ad hoc event grew into a semiannual gathering. Globally, it inspired a series of similar soirées in Paris. Not to mention a companion wine label.
“Expect the unexpected,” says Sims of this year’s event. “It’s never the same.”
The lineup of area-based poets includes Lois Betterton, Su Byron, Dazery, Kathryn Pompey and KyleeliseTHT. Steve McAllister and Joshua Nwanko will fill the air with song. Sims will also premiere his latest film. Whatever the medium, love is the message, and love hasn’t been the same since last Valentine’s Day.
The day of the massacre at a high school in Parkland.
Avoiding the anniversary of that day would’ve been the easy choice. Parkland’s bloody valentine casts a long, dark shadow. Sims could’ve dodged it. Set the latest “SquareRoot of Love” on a different day. A day without those painful memories. Easy. But he chose not to.
“2019 is not the year for hearts and flowers,” he says. “I realized that I just couldn’t ignore the Parkland massacre. You can’t talk about love and turn a blind eye to violence. You can’t try to calculate the square root of love, and ignore the square root of hate. I knew this had to happen on the one-year anniversary.”
“SquareRoot of Love: Broken Heart” looks back on the Parkland heartbreak. And the heartless world that spawned it.
For KyleeliseTHT, it’s personal.
“I wrote a poem called ‘I am Carrola, Not Carol.’ In America, we politicize tragedies like the Parkland shootings. The victims become statistics, a list of talking points. My poem says: ‘No! These children had names.’ The idea was to give an interior voice to the victims. These were everyday children with everyday concerns. Death was the last thing on their minds. Now, we need to keep these children in our minds. We can’t forget their humanity. We can’t forget their names.”
Dazery used poetry to send out a reality check.
“I took it as a call to give Valentine’s Day a real meaning. For 364 days a year, we ignore all the terrible things in this world. Then we celebrate love only one day a year? And we’re supposed to forget the people who were injured, killed, or lost their loved ones last Valentine’s Day? No. To me, that’s hypocrisy. If we can’t be loving and kind to one another every day, it’s an empty gesture. Chocolates, balloons and flowers don’t cut it.”
That’s only a sample. Each poet hears a different drummer. Each musician sings a different song.
Sims isn’t surprised.
“Every artist has their own voice,” he says. “That’s true for poets, musicians, filmmakers, visual artists, whatever. We all have to process the pain in our own way.”
How does Sims process his pain?
As a push for change.
It comes in the form of “My Florida Valentine.” Sims’ latest animated short film confronts America’s epidemic of gun violence. It’s a cry from the heart in the name of love. An open letter U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
“I hate to call him out and make this personal,” Sims says. “But the truth is, I didn’t make it personal. Gun violence is a personal issue, not an abstraction. Bullets ripping through a human body … that goes beyond intellectual debate. You’re either indifferent, or you cry out ‘no more.’ It’s all about where you stand as a human being.”
*A live stream of the event will officially begin at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 14 and those interested may tune in here.