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Jasmine Gardosi always wanted to perform a poem on a roller coaster. But there needed to be a reason, a subject worthy of riding a theme-park attraction.
And then the coronavirus pandemic happened — and kept happening.
The global emergency ushered in nearly two years of whiplash — and counting. Caseloads and deaths continue to fall and rise, followed by mask mandates and other restrictions. Eventually, the emergence of effective vaccines did puncture the dread, but then came the news of waning immunity. It’s been a lot.
When Adrian B. Earle, a friend and fellow poet, egged her on to finally put prose to a roller coaster — in an emotional and literal sense — Gardosi got her “pipe dream” right on track. She worked with filmmaker Paul Stringer to produce the video.
Gardosi is no stranger to the stage. A spoken-word poet and beatboxer, they’re often thinking how to push the performance element as much as possible, blending it with music or some type of movement. The poem wasn’t written before West Midland Safari Park in Worcestershire, England, granted them permission to film. Instead, Gardosi wrote the composition to be timed with the roller coaster’s own ups, downs, twists and turns.
A slam poem is a roller coaster in itself, Gardosi said. It often fits into a three-minute window, and it reaches a climax at two minutes and 30 seconds.
“I feel like a roller coaster is a whole [poetic] form of its own,” she said.
After choreographing the poem to the ride’s “journey,” Gardosi was a little scared she’d forget the memorized words mid-way through the ride. (In all, Gardosi and Stringer, stabilizing a single GoPro camera in the same car, did about six takes.)
At a certain point in Gardosi’s recitation, the sense of control melts away, as the roller coaster spins in circles.
The past two years have been marked by loss and tragedy, Gardosi said, “but it’s also been a time of connection for me as well.” We’ve had a lot of time to reflect, she added.
“It means that you have a lot of time to really figure out who you are,” they said. “There’s a whole other kettle of fish when you’re realizing things about yourself. ‘Gosh, I’m an introvert! Yes, gosh, I’m starting to question my gender identity. Oh, gosh, what’s this isolation doing to me?’”
One of the biggest things to come out of the pandemic for Gardosi was honesty. In her poem, she’s direct, saying she’s still terrified and wary of crowded places.
“I can’t tell where my OCD ends,/ and ‘acceptable’ COVID anxiety begins,” she said in a line that nods to how the public health crisis has played into her obsessive-compulsive disorder “big time.”
“That sort of desire for control, that anxiety — I don’t think you necessarily have to have OCD to be anxious [about the pandemic],” they said.
By JASMINE GARDOSI
This pandemic? Absolute rollercoaster.
Wild. But I’m trying to carry on as normal now.
That’s what everyone else seems to be doing.
And I should be grateful we’ve got our freedom back.
Look at the direction we’re going in –
on the up.
Finally emerging into the light,
back out there. In the real world.
Yeah, my social skills have gone off the rails but…
I’m getting them back on track.
We’ve turned a corner – in a good way.
I’ve loved going back to sweaty gigs
and sitting on trains full of people
and shaking hands with absolute strangers
and coughing once and thinking it’s COVID.
The path forward is clear… so clear.
We’ve done the hard work,
so shouldn’t it be downhill from here?
See? Everything’s fiiine.
It’s going smoothly.
I’ve found my rhythm.
I’m in control.
We’ve taken a turn for the better
and then for the worse
and then for the better
and then for the…
Why does it feel like we’re going backwards,
and round in circles at the same time?
Okay, you want the truth? I’m still terrified.
I freak out in crowded places.
I can’t tell where my OCD ends,
and ‘acceptable’ COVID anxiety begins.
I’m afraid so I stay home, I lay low, I say no.
No matter what’s happening with the number of cases
we’re still riding through our own waves,
like my shielding friends; they’re still isolated.
We’re on the same coaster – different carts.
Same play – different parts.
Same storm – different boats,
holding different floats,
wearing different coats.
Just do whatever makes you feel safe.
It’s more than okay to go at your pace.
We’ve still come so far
even if we’re technically in the same place.
READ MORE: A poem that extends a hand in our lonely times
Joshua Barajas is the arts editor for the NewsHour. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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