Poetry on Zoom ... the good, the bad and the ugly. From Manila to Chester, but trouble at Wigan
Poetry events on Zoom are undoubtedly a force for good, for most of the time. They provide access for housebound poets, and also allow poets from far-flung places to attend. On Tuesday Write Out Loud Sale organiser Sarah Pritchard welcomed Kevin Reid, a poet based in Athens. And another poet at Sale, Debz Butler, who organises the Testify open mic night in Chester, told how their recent Zoom event was visited by five poets from Manila, pictured – even though it was 2.15 in the morning in the Philippines.
But things can also go wrong on Zoom nights, because of the perils of zoom-bombing, when events are disrupted by uninvited trolls who somehow manage to force their way in. Write Out Loud has already written about this hazard – and it happened at Write Out Loud Wigan late in proceedings on Thursday night.
The meeting, which was being hosted by Write Out Loud Wigan’s regular venue, the Old Courts arts centre, had already had a few technical problems when a group of new faces appeared towards the end of the event, delivering personal remarks and obscene insults. Afterwards compere Ian Whiteley said online security would be increased for the next Write Out Loud Wigan Zoom event early in June.
Poet and wheelchair user Shaun Fallows reacted with anger immediately after the Wigan event, but said on Friday: “On reflection it wasn't the end of the world. I think they were just young lads daft drunk or on drugs. They'd managed to log in to our meeting and kept saying rude stuff and flashing up weird pictures while somebody was reading. I think I reacted so strongly because being a really social person, the virus had closed everything down apart from the odd chance to chat and read my stuff - it was a little bit mentally crushing.”
Shaun, who read at Write Out Loud Sale’s Zoom night last month, feels generally positive about virtual poetry nights. He said: “I'm not very good with the tech and I hate using it. On the other hand, many open mics in the real-life world are off limits to me, being a wheelchair user. In this way I'm excited because the always-there barriers like stairs, the layout, or age of building don't exist. I've been amazed at being able to join the odd event anywhere in the country - it’s been truly inclusive.”
He hopes that when “real-life” open-mic nights return, virtual poetry nights will still be available as well. “When this is over I've decided that as long as they are still up and running, I'll do a mix and match of events at venues, and a few on computer. I'm glad we're doing it now but I wish we'd have done it a bit sooner. This is the extra choice that was so long overdue.”
'Acces-Ability' by Shaun Fallows is available here