BY ZACHARY DANKERT
It’s hard to believe that this semester is almost over with. In the midst of so many final projects and exams, I forgot several times this week of a very special event. And even when I remembered and marked it in my calendar, it was just an event, an obligation that might be fun. I didn’t realize it would recolor my vision or introduce new colors to my life.
I’m writing this just after our bi-annual Opus Soup, where we celebrated the accomplishments of those artists who were recognized in this Fall 2020 edition. And it is safe to say, this has been by FAR my favorite Opus Soup I’ve experienced. To watch this event as someone who helped put it together (I say that as if I did a lot; really this was the spectacular brainchild of Morgan Brown and Violet Peschiera, our co-editors-in-chief) is something I feel so monumentally blessed to have experienced. I felt like I knew every piece so well, having spent many nights this semester peering at them during our Zoom meetings, putting on my critique mindset to objectively analyze each poem, painting, prose piece, and photograph. But tonight, there was none of that analysis, none of that judgment; it was all in love and celebration, and let me tell you that it’s the only good way to ever view a piece of art.
Tonight I got to hear the stories behind the stories, the fragments of personality hidden in the dark brushstroke here, the line break there. Emotion wept out of the pages of my Opus edition, which I read like a Bible as each student repeated their words of truth and power. Few books seem as sacred as this one did tonight. As I read, as I watched everyone unmute themselves to snap during our Zoom call, I fell in love with this swirling beautiful mess all over again.
I had only rediscovered my love for writing and for art at the end of my sophomore year at Hope, when I took Professor Childress’s ENGL 253 for my FA2 credit, and that love is something I now hold onto tighter than the heart beating through my hands: the fear of facing an unknown world armed only with a pen. After that class I couldn’t imagine living without writing, but now, a few years down the road, I could feel the shine wearing off a bit. I loved artistic expression, but I’d lost sight of the ingrained need, the force stronger than passion that demanded I put words on the page or, so be it, air will stop flowing through my lungs. That flame that had burned through Akhmatova and “The Stray Dog Cabaret,” through Allen Ginsberg and the Beat Generation. But tonight, as I teared up over a story about Death and a child, as I pondered the battle of being in-between, as I learned of the windows a high school student would look out of to predict the weather, I think I found that unambiguous glimmer. And I have to thank every single artist at Hope, who was either recognized in Opus or wasn’t, for that prophetic revelation.
Before tonight, I felt big; I felt like the experienced, upperclassman poet who knew what he was talking about and could easily rifle off a few critiques of another student’s work, assured in his skill and ability to evaluate that skill in others. But tonight, I felt small. Tonight I listened to young artists read their work and realized, in a moment where I could almost hear God talking to me, that all these students are glorious, ever-spanning like the stars, talented and beautiful and unscalable. Yes, I felt very small indeed, and I couldn’t be more grateful. There is nothing like the love one artist can feel for another, and I just wish that everyone through Zoom could have felt the love I felt for them, for their art, for their unique view of the world, bred of obstacles, that birthed such fractured masterpieces. Everyone should feel proud of what they have done, not because it got into Opus but because it is Opus.
I was handed an amazing responsibility this semester, one I knew I would love but couldn’t predict just how much I would love. It took Opus Soup for me to understand the scope of it and just how classically futile it is. In the end, we aren’t the ones judging work; you are the ones judging your own artistry, and I hope for the love of God you realize how beautiful your projections of reality are, how real and moving and profound each idea is. You artists hold up the sky. From your hands the trees take root and from your breath the sovereign is born. I hope, if tonight did anything for you, that it reinstated how important art is and how important you are as a creator.
I also realized that groups like Opus have a much more vital mission than simply judging your works. We are an enabler of creativity, a producer of inspiration. After tonight, the only thing I want to do is take out my writing pad and scrawl away until I run out of ink or sanity. It can be a lonely, arduous job, creating art, and often we can feel like we’re on a tiny island, aswarm in the twilit night, holding a ghostly light so we can crane over our works. The blood of our art doesn’t flow very often, and often I’ll stare at a blank page and feel every curse dance above my head. But with other writers, those curses lessen, and through friends, peers, editors, and encouragers, the blood begins to flow again. I like to think of Opus as a small outpost in a dark world, where all we can give is bread and water but we give it freely, in the hope you will find the strength to stumble to the next destination. Some may believe that Opus isn’t all that, and maybe it’s not. But a hope, a desire, ignited for the promise of tomorrow, can be kept alive at least another day. All of us have kept a hope alive tonight. Let us believe it will return in the morning.
For those who are interested in viewing Opus Soup, here is the link to our recording of the event: https://vimeo.com/479009511.