Reading between the lonely

Andrea Dorfman and Tanya Davis' How To Be Alone is now a lovely book you can hold and look at daily

“…just take the perspective you get from being one person alone in one head and feel the effects of it./ Take silence and respect it.”

The first incarnation of “How to Be Alone” was a collaborative video by two Haligonian artists: musician and former poet laureate Tanya Davis, and filmmaker/illustrator Andrea Dorfman. After the video was first released in 2010, it went viral. (At the time of this printing, it had over six million views.) In 2011 Davis released her first book of poetry, At First, Lonely, with PEI’s Acorn Press, but it is this one poem in its first incarnation that continues to garner attention for these two artists. This month, a gorgeous, illustrated version of the poem, How to Be Alone, was released by HarperCollins.

Initially, the poem was just intended to live inside the video. “We thought that was that,” explains Davis. “The rest is just a continuing bonus…. I feel grateful and fortunate…the poem keeps on living. People spread it [and] it keeps going.”

As Davis explains, because of the poem’s first “life” on the Internet, it has created a sort of community, which, in its own beautiful way, conquers the very fear of aloneness the poem encourages the reader to rise above. It has also provided Davis and Dorfman a direct line with an appreciative audience. “Getting feedback has been invaluable; a way to connect,” says Davis. “People have taught me things in a way I can’t measure. Part of that, ironically, is to not feel alone.”

And things haven’t slowed down since the video was first posted. “I still get emails from strangers several days a week,” Davis continues. “I feel connected and like I’m doing work that has a place…all we really want to do is to make art to give it away.”

Fans of the video will notice similar imagery in the book—it was Dorfman’s illustrations that graced the video—with a vibrant, cheerful palette that is equal parts whimsy and continuity. “Andrea did so much work,” Davis says. “I love the art that she makes and I trust her immensely.” Surprisingly, according to Davis, this is Dorfman’s first time illustrating a book. “I’m really happy for her, [and] for people who like the poem it’s like a souvenir.”

“Poetry is not considered the most accessible medium,” she continues, explaining how unusual it is that the poem “could be transcribed because the video was successful.” But perhaps it is the topic of How to Be Alone that is the great equalizer.

The launch for How to Be Alone, featuring original artwork, will be held on Saturday, November 23 at ((Parentheses)) Gallery from 7 to 10pm. You can count on being “surrounded, if you need it.”

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