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Jon Sands (he/him/his) reads his poem, “Keith Haring says every audience member is an artist because they create the meaning of a piece of art.”

This poem was first published in the Brooklyn Rail (April 2021):

Jon Sands:

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My name is Jon Sands, and I'm going to be reading a poem called, "Keith Haring says every  audience member is an artist  because they create the  meaning of a piece of art." I wrote this kind of thinking of, um, Keith Haring, who was one of my favorite visual artists. And his writings are a lot  about, um, art versus or and  the perception of art, and thus living  and the perception of living.

And that led me to—and this should probably serve as a content warning as well— death and the perception of dying. Keith Haring says every audience member is an artist  because they create the meaning of a piece of art Or, he said it in the past tense. Because he was alive when he said it.

And now he is a thing we have all agreed is called dead. Dead is what happens when everyone who loves you wants to talk to you the same way they always have, and can’t ever again. Dead is when all of what you made— love letters, poems, voicemails, your tongue into the shape of a clover in a high school photo— is all that you are.

Sometimes dead is kaput. Dead makes your acquaintances think of you more often. It makes your true loves say, I don’t know how I’ll continue / to live.

Talking to the dead is a staticky connection, to say the very least.  And saying the very least is what the dead do best. Because when you’re dead, people say what you would have said. Your memory becomes a commodity, your death a commercial which ends with a candle.

I speak to the dead with my yearning. I can write to the bottom of a lake. And you, like me, might think it’s nonsense.

But you, like me, also suck sometimes. You, like me, can be so cynical you’ll look at death  and say, prove it. You, like me, may have nothing left to learn from all that you can’t see.

It’s unbearable to know so much, you stupid idiot. And there are things you don’t know that only you can know.