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By Joey Phoenix
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” Charles Dickens famously begins in his A Tale of Two Cities, set in London and Paris during the French Revolution. Writers like Dickens have always attempted to sum up terrible and beautiful periods that they have learned about or survived through, and while some can examine the spiralic and bittersweet nature of time with deep and poignant clarity, others seem to get bogged down by the mess, the complexity of what it means to be a person living on this planet at any given time.
But truly compartmentalizing human experience is a Sisyphean task, and in his first book of poetry Drinking from Snowglobes (2020), North Shore-based Christopher O’Keeffe (he/him) has willfully dived into the mess.
Plans? What Plans?
In 2020, everyone had plans. Poet and writer Christopher O’Keeffe also had plans, specifically plans to collaborate with talented podcasters, writers, and creators for Podcation, a four-day event where an international team would gather in Salem to write, rehearse, perform and record an original audio drama over a short period of time.
Maybe predictably, as if anyone could’ve known what this year might bring, the event didn’t happen as it was planned.
He took it as a sign to go inward, to write.
“One of my favorite things to do in the summer is leave everything behind except a notebook and ride my bike to Winter Island or Rice’s Beach. I did a lot of that. Connectivity can take a lot out of you,” said O’Keeffe.
This inward focus turned into Drinking from Snowglobes, a restless homage to the multitudinous moments that make up a life, encompassing the scope of O’Keeffe’s work over the last two decades. Some of the bright vignettes included running from the rain in “Rice’s Beach Poem,” sipping fizzy mimosas in “Brunch”, or loss and longing in the work’s final poem “On the Anniversary of Your Death.”
Reading through the work feels like you’re in a malfunctioning time machine, dropping into 2009 and gripping onto a memory before being slingshotted forward to 2019 and everything feels uncomfortable, looming on the precipice of sudden change and instability.
And he does this intentionally, observing the lines that connect us through the lens of memory and how they affect our perception of time. This occurs poignantly in “Montreal Poem.” He writes in the poem:
“These are the good times and I have to remind myself that. It’s been years
since anybody died, and we will all have to spend time in hospitals and
graveyards at some point, but not today. Today is free admission and drink
“It’s from 2019 and it might as well have been 50 years ago,” O’Keeffe describes, “My wife’s band (Radio Compass) played Pouzza Fest up in Canada last year and the poem is just sort of like, ‘Hey, take it in. You’re surrounded by people you love. Drink tickets and sunshine. Enjoy, because stuff might go horribly, horribly wrong at some point.’”
And this is what O’Keeffe does so well: interweaving deep longing and small hurtful barbs along bright and dizzying pops of color. It’s as if he’s saying that If you feel the world too strongly go to the ocean, listen to your favorite song, remember those you’ve lost and keep remembering forever. Hold tight, hold steady. If you love it, love it well.
The events of 2020 have hit the planet like a wallop, and artists and writers will be spending years trying to make sense of what we have all collectively, and individually, experienced. When the clock struck midnight on March 13th in Massachusetts and shelter-in-place became the new reality, time appeared to stop, and in many ways we are still experiencing a strange sense of time lag in the months since. We all had to make decisions we didn’t want to make, adapt to new ways of living that weren’t comfortable, and found ourselves daydreaming about the halcyon days that 2019, 2009,1999 have offered us.
We start to think that we should’ve been grateful for what we had. We start to think that maybe what we had was broken too.
In the coming years, thousands of perspectives will come together to create a full picture of what we all saw, spoke about in hushed corners, or screamed into megaphones this year.
In “When Meagan Sang for the Autistic Kids” O’Keeffe writes:
“One boy heard a nightmare, one girl
heard a penguin circus, I heard
something like hope, whatever it is
that presses you against your seat.”
Whatever we each have heard in 2020 and will remember in years to come, with Drinking from Snowglobes O’Keeffe has captured the idyllic glow of moments which we hold onto when everything feels empty and mundane, akin to a Giver giving memories of the color red to people so swept up in grey.
This book of poetry makes you want to dive into sunlight, drink heavily while listening to live music, and hold on to the feeling of being a human on a planet with other humans. And while everything might be a steaming pile of garbage for the moment, and none of us will ever be the same again, there will always be moments of brightness we are moving from, and moments of brightness we are moving to.
Joey Phoenix (they/them) is the Managing Editor of Creative North Shore, the Digital Content Manager for North Shore Pride, and the co-founder of Moonrise Fae. They love hearing your thoughts, so if you have story ideas, something to share, or excellent photos of jellyfish, send them a message at firstname.lastname@example.org
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We wanted to shine a spotlight on many of the small businesses that make up the fabric of our communities and support them as much as we can throughout the Winter.
Stay tuned to this event for information on businesses throughout the North shore. We will be highlighting the humans behind the small businesses, showcasing specials and promotions, and also curating experiences that will make your local shopping even better!A priority this year will be to educate consumers on the safety protocols that so many of our fantastic businesses have implemented in response to the Coronavirus pandemic.