Poetry online: perhaps there's an open-mic future that might include Zoom when all this is over?
Don’t get me wrong. We at Write Out Loud Woking love our regular venue in the cafe area at the Lightbox museum and art gallery. It makes us feel part of a wider arts community – and we know they value having us there, too. But we haven’t been able to gather together there since February because of the pandemic restrictions. And last night we discovered that the online alternative is not all bad, by any means.
Around 20 poets, plus guest poet Denise Bundred and two comperes read at our first online gathering, conducted via Zoom. Our number included performance poet Robert Garnham from Paignton with strong family ties in Woking, another poet in Bristol, one in London, another in Kent, and also the welcome addition of Sale Write Out Loud organiser Sarah Pritchard.
I know others – and certainly Sarah - have already been doing this for months. We definitely didn't rush into Zoom but waited - and waited - until we felt we understood it. And that worked for us. By the time we held our night many of our poets had taken part in a number of Zoom gatherings, and were adept at it. Those that hadn’t but were keen to have a go quickly learned that there wasn’t much to be afraid of.
At the Lightbox as co-compere I usually scurry around taking pictures as well. With Zoom I had a rest from all that - and more time to listen to the words. One or two of our poets tend to mumble at the mic, and we could hear them much better online. There were no sudden blasts of noise from the Lightbox café coffee machine, or bursts of laughter from the comedy night upstairs. And, above all, there was a wonderful sense of a poetry community finally getting back together again.
However, there was at least one technical hitch, unnoticed at the time. One poet had got the kick-off time wrong and arrived in the waiting room around 8pm - when I was taking part in the NHS clap. And when I returned, I didn't check the waiting room. I have apologised to him.
Ideas for the future? When we get back to our regular venues, why not run a separate, monthly online night in tandem, with an open-mic list for regulars but with spaces also allotted for those further afield, or who would normally suffer physical access problems, or both. It would be a doubling of time and energy for organisers, which is a big ask. We might call ours Write Out Loud Woking Sans Frontieres. Or something like that.
Or maybe hold the Zoom one once every three months. If that doesn’t happen, for understandable reasons, we might in the back-to-the barbecues future just find ourselves gazing back nostalgically to the time when lockdown led to a paradoxical widening of our poetry horizons.