SquareRoot of Love: Broken Heart


There are many reasons to have a broken heart these days: children dying at the borders, prison slave labor, violence of every kind, mass shootings, church betrayal, fallen icons, and, of course, the loss of the Queen of Soul. It seems that we have lost more than our Hurricane Aretha—we’ve also lost the collective soul that should guide a humanity rooted in love and empathy. There are many reasons to despair, especially when Trump and many leaders like him are at the helm of sinking ships heavy with the baggage of white supremacy, political corruption, and xenophobia.

However broken our hearts feel, we must carry on and find the spaces for, the conversations about, and the commitment to reaffirming the power of expression and action. We must find a way to keep the roots of love and justice strong. Our sanity and survival may depend on this very capacity.

The SquareRoot of Love, a series of wine, poetry, and film events, is a call to the creative class and beyond to explore ideas and expressions of love. It is a call to expand the spirit of Valentine’s Day to include the celebration and reflection of love’s role in the pursuit of social justice, peace, and human compassion. For more on the origins of this project see here.

Last year, SquareRoot of Love: Love, Politics, and Power was organized in both New York and Paris. The New York show was held at the Bowery Poetry Club on February 12, and featured Raluca Albu, Rev. Billy/ The Church Stop Shopping, Joy Garnett, Melissa Goodrum, Herukhuti, Miss Justice Jester, Swati Khurana, M.L. Liebler, Yael Acher “KAT” Modiano, Kristin Prevallet, Edwin Torres, and Christopher Paul Wolfe. I was honored to host this show, and to somewhat selfishly shared my landmark birthday with such an incredible group of poets and musicians. See the Bowery Poetry Club video trailer below.

Two days later, on Valentine’s Day, the Paris event was held at the Culture Rapide. This second event featured Jamika Ajalon, Antonia Alexandra Klimenko, Ray Knight, Rethabile Masilo, Lisa Pasold, Daniel Wilner, with host Ed Bell.

As the poets at the Paris event were winding down and getting ready to take the group photo above, some 4500 miles away, at that very moment, a high school in Parkland Florida was under siege. As I attempted to watch a choppy stream of the Paris event on my cell phone, I was being distracted by the news blitzing past on the hotel TV screen about something happening in Florida. But there is always something crazy going on in Florida, I thought to myself. Trayvon Martin, the Orlando club shooting, and pet alligators eating small children. But this was different, massively different, and very much murderous. A very sad Valentine’s Day indeed.

Months later, I thought, maybe I have it all wrong. Maybe we should explore more the SquareRoot of Hate. How can we humans be so cruel? While I know it is impossible to regulate the psychopathy that can cause such evil, we can try to limit the tools of destruction such as Confederate flags and guns. Inspired by the Parkland shootings, I decided to write Senator Rubio of Florida an open Valentine’s Day letter to challenge him on his pro-gun politics and to implore him to listen to the protesting students as they deserve a safe world free from gun violence. This letter morphed into a motion graphic animation featuring a special Rubio portrait I first did for my friend Kim Sillen’s Senator Portrait Project, which “features sixty-four paintings by sixty-four artists depicting the NRA’s enablers with blood on their hands.”

So, I now present to you “My Florida Valentine: The Rubio Letter”:

With all of this in heart, I present to you the 2019 program of the third annual SquareRoot of Love: Broken Heart – Sarasota/Paris, a film, poetry and music event dedicated to the global broken heart that we as humans endure collectively, and to the seventeen victims and all the survivors of the Parkland High School massacre. The Sarasota, Florida event, taking place on Valentine’s Day, will feature Lois Betterton, Su Byron, Dazery, KyleeliseTHT, Kathryn Pompey, Steve McAllister, and Joshua Nwankwo. On Sunday, February 17, the Paris event will feature contributions from Audio Visual Terrorism, David Barnes, Ed Bell, Global Network, Antonia Alexandra Klimenko, Cecilia, Llompart, Rethabile Masilo, Fedorah Philippeaux, Camille Andrea Rich, Yann Rousselot, Moe Seager, Kristina Vaughan, Daniel Wilner, and Nina Živančević.

We are proud to share poems today from Lois Betterton, KyleeliseTHT, David Barnes, Cecilia Llompart, and Nina Živančević, as a selected collection of works that will be read at the SquareRoot of Love: Broken Heart events in Sarasota and Paris.

I Danced with Death
(for Meadow Pollack, age 18)

Death is not what you think it is. The human spirit does not end with death.

I am alone now, and that is all that I can see. I hear muffled voices off in the distance, I am just a shadow now and that is all that I can ever be. Caught in the cold absence of anything alive, while noticing that I can only see through memory’s eyes; backward is my only view, the ghosts of faded memories now is all that’s left of me.

I’m shot! I’m jolted upward, feeling tangled and alone, and I remain suspended there, when everybody’s gone. Everything went black and then a light again returned, and everything is different now, my wounds no longer burn.

No one can hear or see me now, a lifeless marionette engulfed in violence, terror’s final shouts and screams, and then it finally ends.

Bullets flying furiously, they sound like violins, plucking pizzaccatos on invisible strings, as bullets catch us, carefully aimed, flying at us in the fray, and my tomorrow never comes, and I won’t live to see another day.

Now suddenly I feel so stiff and oh, so very cold, as we’re all senselessly extinguished as our gruesome deaths unfold. Out of nowhere he just came at us in a full adrenalin blast, that crazed young gunman, weapon aimed, he mowed us down so fast.

I imagine they all had to know with their last chaotic breaths
this was their end, and in a flash they all were gone, the only victor, death.
Imagining young Meadow as she fell to shield a friend. She tried to save a student as her life came to an end. They say she did it valiantly while barely still alive, but sadly they were both plowed down and neither one survived.

Imagining a whisper from her young departed soul, my mind drifts through the unknown realms of lost-forever souls, the might-have-beens, their futures brutally struck down—seventeen attacked and lived, seventeen would live no more.

Now all that we can do today is honor who they’d be
if they had been allowed to live and die with dignity.
Let’s send them all a Valentine to warm their souls today,
and wish them peace at this remembrance of their final day.

– Lois Betterton


I Am Carrola, Not Carol

(For all the previously unnoticed students until they died at Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s day 2018)

Two twenty-one. Geez! Just six minutes to tell my story?
First off, I am Carrola not Carol.
I am fourteen.
I am not pretty.
But I will be.
Second thing. If I miss work, today, I’ll be fired.
Thirdly, you cannot make a boy love you just because it’s Valentine’s day.
I am Carrola not Carol.
It’s Valentine’s day.
And, I will not be loved.
But I will be fired.
Look at my dress. So pretty.
Look at my shoes. They hurt my feet but make me taller.
Look at my hair. I’ve never worn it down this way.
But it’s Valentine’s day.
I am Carrola not Carol.
I am fourteen.
I am not yet pretty.
But I am smart.
My teeth are not straight, but my grades are perfect.
And, I want to be noticed!
All day, I have waited
for a rose—a candy—a pretty card with my name spelled right.
It’s two twenty-four. Just three minutes to finish my story?
I’m on the third floor. Chemistry exam.
It is the end.
Too little time to be noticed.
Class dismissed.
My feet hurt.
But I am taller.
My dress is pretty.
My hair looks great.
I aced the test!
It’s two twenty-five. Just two minutes to end my story?
I am Carrola not Carol.
It’s Valentine’s day.
But no one noticed—Me.
I wore a dress—aced the test—I wore heels—I did my best!
My feet hurt, but I am taller.
I’m leaving class.
I’m in the hall.
I see a boy,
not very tall.
I am Carrola not Carol.
It’s Valentine’s day.
I’m dying to be noticed.
I’m in the hall.
I see a boy—not very tall.
He has a gun.
He has a gun.
He has a gun, and I cannot run!
I am Carrola not Carol.
It’s Valentine’s day.
And, I will not be loved.
But I will be fired . . . because he noticed—Me.

– KyleeliseTHT


A Fragment

rooted, love performs a mathematics of the heart
that multiplies out across America,
runs numbers more vast than Parkland’s catalog of errors.

– David Barnes


Protest Poem #NeverAgain

Because they were only children. Because we
put weapons into their hands and the wrong
ideas into their heads. Because they put bullets
into each other. Because our training will fail us.
Because laws will fail us. Because we mustn’t
fail each other over and over again like this,
America. Because we pledged allegiance to
the flag just this morning, our hands over our
still beating hearts. Because this is not a drill.
Because the killer escaped by dropping his
weapons and fleeing with the other students,
urging them to jump the fence to safety. Because
the minutes dragged themselves across the floor
before the boomerang of a siren could be heard.
Because has anyone seen my boyfriend girlfriend
brother sister son daughter father mother husband
wife child baby my baby my baby my God.
Because there was nowhere left to hide except
in the line of sight. Because of the victim who
held a door open so his classmates could get
through more quickly. Because of the victim
who passed out books so her classmates could
cover their heads. Because of the victim whose
family had immigrated to this country hoping
for something better. Because of the janitor who
stayed to redirect all those accidentally running
towards the building under fire. Because of the
coach whose last words were get behind me.
Because we’ve never spoken before, but when
the time comes, I will shield you with my body.
Because what the bullet said to the body is final.
Because the body is a blessing, the body houses
a flicker of light that cannot be extinguished.
Because I love you. Because I might not get
another chance to say it. Because of that sound.
Because of that sound. Because it keeps getting
closer. Because my best friend was sitting right
next to me when she fell backward. Because of
the silence afterwards—that seeps out of us—
staining everything it touches. Because we only
found out because the news rusted the television
from the inside out. Because night falls like an arm
around our shoulders, offers a small condolence
of moonlight, but we still don’t feel comforted.
Because we are gathered here today to mourn
our futures, how they once glittered like the sea
in the distance. Because the pain is only multiplied
by the mind’s capacity to imagine other outcomes.
Because knowledge, they said, is power but those
in power don’t seem to give a damn. Because to
know something is to let yourself be devastated
by it. Because it’s Valentines Day, and I was
hoping you’d be mine—but all I’ve got is this
trembling hand and this broken heart to give you.

– Cecilia Llompart



If I were to paint
My interior
It would be ocher yellow and red
With a deep deep dark
Between these two
Kind of a dark memory
Dark legacy
From the Persians

– Nina Živančević


Can’t be in Sarasota on February 14 or Paris on February 17? Both events will be live-streamed here!

SquareRoot of Love: Sarasota

Lois Betterton grew up in Yonkers, New York and now resides in Sarasota, Florida. She founded The Word Show in 2012 in Sarasota which showcased local, free range, organic poets. Publications include “Dr. Alfonz Lengyel, RPA China Connections, US-China Review Winter 2010 Edition,” and the poetry blog New Words. She edited “GUANYIN: The Art of Compassion—Guanyin And the Welfare of Sentient Beings: Images from The Medieval Period of China” by Dr. Chang Qing.

KyleeliseTHT is a writer of nonfiction and fiction and the author of two novellas and several short stories. She has earned several awards and honors for her writing and work as a television and documentary producer. Her work also includes preserving the legacy of the late artist Tmnk/Nobody.


SquareRoot of Love: Paris

David Barnes grew up in the England of Agatha Christie and Margaret Thatcher. He has studied astrophysics, American literature, and existential psychotherapy. He is the ringmaster of SpokenWord Paris which happens every Monday at the Chat Noir and is now entering its thirteenth year. He is the editor-in-chief of The Bastille literary magazine and was prose editor of Strangers in Paris, published by Tightrope Books. He has adopted with enthusiasm Jean Cocteau’s maxim that a poet is a liar who always tells the truth.

Cecilia Llompart was born in Puerto Rico and raised in Florida. She is the author of The Wingless (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2014), and her book-length poem, Painted Lair, was a semi-finalist for the Fall 2017 Black Lawrence Press Chapbook Competition as well as a finalist for Verse’s 2016 Tomaž Šalamun Prize. She was awarded a fellowship from The Dickinson House, named a finalist for The Field Office Agency’s 2016 Postcard Prize in poetry, and one of ten winners in Neat Streets Miami “Growing Green Bus Stop” Haiku Contest. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Adroit Journal, AGNI, Ecotone, Gulf Coast, The Sun, TriQuarterly Review, and elsewhere. In 2015, she founded the New Wanderers, a nomadic poetry collective, and currently lives in Paris, France where she also writes in both Spanish and French.

Nina Živančević is a Serbian-born poet, playwright, fiction writer, translator, scholar, performer, curator, and art critic. Živančević published her first book in 1982 for which she won the National Award for poetry in Yugoslavia. From 1980 to 1981 she worked as a teaching assistant and secretary to Allen Ginsberg. She worked as a literary editor for East Village Eye and Theater X, as a freelance journalist for Politika, El Pais, L’Unita, Woman (Spain), and Nexus, and as a contributor to the New Yorker and New York Arts Magazine. She performed with The Living Theater (1988-1992) and La Mama Experimental Theatre Club, and in 1988 she co-founded the Odiyana Theatre. She is author of more than fifteen books and has translated notable works of poetry into Serbian. She lives and works in Paris.


I wish to the thank all of contributors and venues, past and present. For the Paris shows: special thanks to Ed Bell for hosting this year and last year, and to Antonia Alexandra Klimenko for helping me organize last year and Kristina Vaughan for this year. Also, much thanks to Malik Crumpler, Camille Andrea Rich, and Fedorah Philippeaux for the behind the scenes support.


Photographs and videos provided courtesy of John Sims.

John Sims, a Detroit native, is a multimedia creator, writer, and producer, creating projects spanning the areas of installation, text, music, film, performance, and large-scale activism. His main projects are informed by mathematics, the politics of sacred symbols/anniversaries, and the agency of poetic text. He is currently artist in residency at the Ringling Museum of Art, where created the performance piece, 2020: (Di)Visions of America. He has lectured and exhibited both nationally and internationally and his work has been covered in Art in America, Sculpture, Guernica Magazine, Transition, FiberArts, Science News, CNN, NBC News, New York Times, USA Today, The Guardian, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and the science journal Nature. He has written for CNN, Al Jazeera, The Huffington Post, Guernica, The Rumpus, The Grio, and the Detroit Metro Times. More from this author →