Zoom a Zoom Zoom, 10 Poets in a Virtual Room

The Initial meet up – Saturday 12th September

Like most things in the world, we have had to adapt this project to embrace the so called ‘new normal’.

The poetry exchange was due to start back in April 2020. However, due to Lockdown measures and the ongoing pandemic, the Born Lippy Collective (based in Newcastle) were sadly prevented from visiting London to meet up with their poetic counterparts- Spoken. As measures have since somewhat been relaxed we decided to start the project, but felt that it was safer to do this via an initial meet up on Zoom.

I have previously run a number of workshops on Zoom as it has quickly become the new classroom, youth club and team meeting, enabling everyone with an internet connection to participate, regardless of their location. Before we started, I was still feeling quite nervous as I knew there would be limitations in meeting virtually like people not being able to express everything they want to say or becoming tired due to Zoom fatigue.  

What occurred was amazing. Nine poets from London, Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough met online to meet and greet each other, find out more about the project and start to have discussions about the type of issues they were of importance to them.

Initially taking part in a series of icebreaker games led by myself, the poets were moved into breakout spaces where they were asked to find three things they had in common and find out what had initially each got them interested in spoken word poetry. Commonalities included: a shared love of lasagne, jungle music and Paris, a shared interest in travelling, nature and doing charity work and a shared dislike of internet life, Brexit and Chelsea F.C. Reasons for getting into spoken word included: writing a poem while attending a Mos Def Hip-hop concert, getting into performing while acting in a school adaptation of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and attending a spoken event while going out on a date night. Poets found this difficult as they were only given three minutes to meet and find out off all of this info from each other.

They then each had to get on their virtual soap box and talk passionately about a social issue that was of importance to them. The purpose of this exercise was for each of them to speak out and enable the other participants to find out more about what makes them passionate, makes them tick and what they are concerned about. 

Poets were timed, being given only two minutes to preach before others were able to chime in and talk in support of that same issue for one minute. Topics included: learning lessons from British black history, the connection between racism and class, how big and diverse racism actually is anfd its connection with colourism, division and isolation within LGBTQ community, alienation in face to face and online communities, youth empowerment at a time when services are being cut, the danger of division created by fake news during the pandemic.

Though initially it was planned for everyone to share one of their own poems from their repertoire, we were cutting it close for time so we put the poets back into breakout rooms to discuss the issues they raised in more depth. This was useful for helping the poets work out who they bonded with and might want to collaborate with on the project. Unfortunately it was difficult as due to technical difficulties we were only able to talk for three minutes which meant discussions did end quite abruptly.

Back in the main room, people then fed back about the process and checked out about their thoughts on the day. Comments included:

“Lots of interesting topics and learning taken from everyone – it helped me get educated by hearing from different voices and experiences”.  

“Met lots of people I think I could really work well with by having conversations that got me thinking”.

“Looking forward to using poetry to work out things that are more difficult”,

 “Today was beautiful. Feel optimistic and grateful for being involved.”

“Excited about being involved in a project with other people who want change the world-  so let’s go out and shake up the s**t.”

 “Never been involved in anything like this before, but now feeling really positive.”

“Longest Zoom call I’ve ever had but it was really interesting and got a chance to share the space with you all.”

Though a great success, one poet was sadly unable to attend so we will have to recruit someone to replace them.  I found the day inspiring but I found it challenging being both a facilitator and participant.

Next stage- we are meeting up in London in person on 22nd October to be paired up with poets and start writing We might even get the chance to perform some poems in front of actual people at a Spoken showcase. Watch this space. 

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