Rachel Dobkin, Staff Writer |
The Poetry Slam Association (PSA) has been organizing Virtual Poetry Cafes for the spring semester, giving students a chance to hear poems from an outside feature poet and have students share their works on an online platform.
Virtual Poetry Cafes are held bi-weekly at 7 p.m. and are open to the public. Information regarding upcoming events can be found on Campus Connection.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, PSA will not hold in-person poetry slams this semester. Instead, the club has introduced the Virtual Poetry Cafes in place of the in-person slams. However, this will not grant the opportunity for student poets to qualify for the SUNY Oneonta Big O’ Poetry Slam Team. The team would usually go to the College Union Poetry Slam Invitational hosted by the Association of College Unions International (ACUI), but this is not feasible due to the pandemic.
Robb Thibault, advisor of PSA, said, “we’ve had momentum for what 17, 18 straight years we’ve sent a team to the tournament, so it took a pandemic to break the streak.”
But that doesn’t mean student poets can’t share their work and learn from outside feature poets. PSA has hosted three Virtual Poetry Cafes this semester and more is yet to come, including one on Mar. 10 with feature poet Catherine Wilson. Wilson is a Scottish spoken word poet and writer based in Edinburgh, Scotland. This is an upside to the virtual experience since feature poets can now come to perform from all over the world.
Thibault spoke on this, saying, “The good news, unfortunately from a pandemic we still get to have her from afar…it will be kind of an international experience.”
There are bound to be some differences between these new Virtual Poetry Cafes and the old in-person slams. PSA President, Spencer Potter, talked about the differences in the approach. He said, “When we had the in-person slams, it was more of a competition…with the virtual one’s we’ve taken more of a laid-back approach…It’s less slam poetry and more of an open mic thing. Anybody’s welcome to come bring anything they want.”
Up to seven members of the audience are welcome to participate and share their poems. However, audience participation is on a decline. Potter shared his thoughts on this. He said, “I think the audience is a little more hesitant to participate. I know a lot of people find it uncomfortable because they are just reading a poem to an empty room to a computer screen, so it takes some getting used to with that.”
PSA also hosts weekly workshops every Wednesday at 5 p.m. over Zoom. This is where students can bring any new poems they have been working on, watch videos of other performances and engage in writing prompts and critiques. Potter said these workshops are all about “helping each other create.”
Upcoming workshops include one on Mar. 3 with slam poet Gayle Danley, where she will share her four-step writing process: Wring, Bling, Fling and Sing to infuse writing with passion and power, and one on Mar. 17 with slam poet Jesse Parent, where he will present “Improvisation as a Writing Tool: Breaking out of writer’s block using small improv tools as jumping points and playing games to break out of writer’s predictable go-tos,” according to Campus Connection.
To attend these virtual workshops, go to Campus Connection to find the Zoom link and further details.
These virtual poetry events are crucial for students because it gives them a chance to express themselves in the midst of a troubling pandemic. Potter talks about his own experience as a writer. He says, “It’s a way for me to express how I’m feeling, what I’m going through in kind of a more personal way than I think I would be able to in just like a conversation with another person and doing it through poetry and performing it or having it published somewhere also allows you to reach more people, so you have a broader audience.”
Potter also spoke from his perspective as an audience member. He said, “For me, I get to see what other people are going through…you get a peek into their mind in the way that you typically don’t.”
Whether as a performer or audience member, join PSA on Wednesday nights this semester.