The Art of Friendship

Returning to “Sci-Fi and Supper” after a year apart.

The Art of Friendship

After a year, I’ve returned to a Sunday night ritual of watching sci-fi shows and cooking dinner with a group of dear friends. One of them dubbed it “Sci-Fi and Supper,” a name charming, simple, and enduring.

Before the pandemic, this was a sustaining bit of community for me, a space to laugh, rant, rejoice, commiserate, and often sit in the silence of satiated hunger. We talked about our annual deviled-egg competition while watching “Star Trek: Discovery.” We drank rice wine and expensive seltzers and lamented the latest cliffhanger on “The Expanse.” We encouraged each other about job opportunities, celebrated the various publication successes, and cracked jokes about the tiny houses in this central Baltimore neighborhood.

Here is where I was first introduced to the Buddha bowl as a meal and learned that, just like in my poetry, I am a sucker for well-crafted mashups.

The first Sunday after each of us was vaccinated, I walked into the rowhome where we meet and said, unabashedly, “We finally got the starship crew back together!”

A little kitsch goes a long way.

Almost all the shows we’ve chosen to watch have been long-form, serial television, and this time we decided to go with “WandaVision,” although I was the only one who hadn’t yet seen it. Earlier in the pandemic, a student of mine who was finishing her MFA at the University of Baltimore inquired about how to transform into poems what was clearly a visceral reaction she had to “WandaVision,” an MCU spin-off that pays homage to various classic (i.e., Nick at Nite, if you’re of a certain age) television.

I’d read enough comics about its characters to guess at the gist of what might occur in the show, or at least to not be shocked by the expected nods to fans. However, I didn’t have a great answer to my student’s question. I thought, surely, if anyone were ready-made for this type of imagining-into-poems exercise, it would be me. But I was hesitant because I hadn’t yet seen the show.

Now, having watched “WandaVision,” I realize what bizarre and interesting poems my student’s thoughts would have made. I hope she still chooses to write them.

The experience reminded me of the connection between serial TV and serial poems — poems written in sequences. My debut collection of poems, The Understudy’s Handbook, was published in October 2020, and in the months since, I’ve wrestled greatly with balancing gratitude and grief.

I remain immensely grateful to even have a book, but I’m also unsure how much regret to express regarding not being able to celebrate the book with in-person events. And in that tension, I haven’t written many new poems, with one notable exception: a crown of sonnets.

In some ways, you could think of a crown of sonnets like episodes of a television show. There is an ending line and then a recap of the “previous episode” in the first line of the subsequent sonnet. The progression is both linear and circular in that way. There are often call-backs to certain imagery not unlike the visual foreshadowing a viewer might notice when re-watching a TV episode. The reader and viewer are encouraged to “connect the dots,” as it were.

I find the linking, the connective tissue, in both TV and sequenced poems to be a method of suggesting human connection. In other words, they are both ways of saying you are not as isolated as you think.

For me, this reminder was as welcome as returning to a good meal, a good show, and a good time in the company of friends. Perhaps that is the primary purpose of art, to remind us that connecting to one another is possible, even after a very long year apart.

Steven Leyva’s new poetry collection is The Understudy’s Handbook.

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