As the saying goes, “A trouble shared is halved; a joy shared, doubled.” The latest volume of the arts and literary journal The Perch focuses on daily life during COVID, sharing the troubles survived by the artists and writers as well as their joys in this time. It is titled “The View From Here” and can be read online here.
The special issue includes writers, artists, and musicians from North America, Scotland, Korea, and Europe. Featured in “The View From Here” are 82 contributions, selected from among around 1000 submissions.
The Perch provides a space for people to publish works drawing on their experience with issues of mental health. The journal does not require that they refer to mental health technically or explicitly. Managing editor Lucile Bruce, communications officer at the Connecticut Mental Health Center, says of the journal, “We have a very broad definition of mental health and what fits under that umbrella.”
Michael Rowe, PhD, founding editor and a professor of psychiatry affiliated with the Yale Program for Recovery and Community Health, home to The Perch, agrees. “The idea with the journal was that it would have a focus on mental health, mental illness, the lived experiences of people—but not in too well-defined a way. We didn’t want to constrict people.”
Charles Barber, a nonfiction author on mental health and criminal justice and professor at Wesleyan University, is the special issue editor. He says that the idea for the issue came up very clearly in the early months of the pandemic. Barber adds that mental health has become a major theme of the COVID era.
The special issue is a collaboration with the Mental Health Foundation in Scotland. Rowe has worked in concert with the foundation professionally before, but this is the first issue that it helped produce.
About the idea for “The View From Here,” Barber says, “We were all being sent home, and I wanted to do something proactive….We had a series of conversations with our collaborators in Scotland, and the issue declared itself.” The journal put out calls through the editors’ networks and an online submission system, as well as through word of mouth.
The themes of the issue include raising children during COVID, isolation, communicating with family and loved ones, and grief. Barber says, “I think what we got was almost at the domestic level of COVID—what it's like to have a teenager in the house during this time; what it's like to go shopping; what it's like to have a disability, to read obituaries, to immerse yourself in nature.”
In “Katabasis,” Ronald Kelly writes that the time of COVID brought him a welcome change from working the night shift—yet also took away his aunt. Kelly writes, “But while I had learned to sleep at night and work in the daytime, Auntie had breathed in the wrong puff of air, gotten sent home with ibuprofen when she went to the doctor for help, and died only weeks later in pain.”
Celia Donovan, in “The View From Here is Best Kept Hidden,” describes her highs and lows after living at the start of the pandemic in a women’s shelter. She writes, “Acts of kindness sprout everywhere. I am sent encouraging words from friends, a friend sends me artwork to cheer the place up, another brings me plants and I grow French beans and sunflowers on my windowsill…”
The visual art for The Perch is edited by Rebecca Miller, and journal designer Jeanne Criscola played a great role in pairing the writing with the art. The visual art includes photographs, painted self-portraits and landscapes, drawings, sketches, and collage. The pieces are arranged in chronological order, roughly March to July 2020.
This volume, the sixth of The Perch since 2013, premiered in a Zoom celebration on November 18th. Writers read from their pieces, music from the issue (the songs “Do Better” and “On the Other Side”) was played, and the visual art was projected.
Current and past issues of The Perch are available online on the Yale Program for Recovery and Community Health website. This is the first special issue of The Perch but not its last. The editors are working on a new theme for the next issue.