Poetry under self-isolation: virtual readings

I’ve been self-isolating since March 17th as that is when I found out that I was classed as high-risk. I was aware of it prior but it hadn’t been official before then, at least as far as I was concerned, and after it was I did a final shop before not setting foot outside for five days straight out of concern for my wellbeing. By the end I felt like I was going a bit mad, leading me to realise that it was important to find a balance, and that balance involved taking walks down side streets – which would sound ominous if they weren’t so painfully quaint. Though there is also much to be done indoors, and while it may be more difficult to poet (v.) in these times, poeting has continued and adapted nonetheless, and wonderfully so.

I recently contributed to the International Poetry Circle, started on Twitter by Tana Skurtu, in which I read a poem from Mouth: Eats Color by Sawako Nakayasu and Chika Sagawa, as well as my own dogwalkslowly from the streetcake experimental writing anthology. Featuring subtitles/CC, a builder’s laugh, and an unmade bed (apologies, it’s comfier that way):

The collective of works is really wonderful, with readers sharing both their own writing and the writing of others. I actually found it quite refreshing to read someone else’s work aloud. You can find a lot more readings under the hashtag on Twitter.

I also experienced my first virtual poetry reading as part of Stay At Home Fest, reading for streetcake magazine. My observations of virtual readings, at least via Zoom, are as follows:

  1. Normally during a reading you only feel like people are looking at you when you’re reading, because people are looking at you when you’re reading, as you would presumably hope. But in Zoom, even when you’re not reading you’re in a small box above the person who is, and as such may feel like you have to be more of a person than you would usually in these settings.
  2. While you’re reading, everyone else’s mics are muted. This means that if you’re like me and tend to talk around your poems a bit and make moderately terrible jokes, rather than polite to sincere laughter you will be met with silence. Unless you happen to catch a glimpse of a fellow reader smiling from their tiny video feed, you will have no idea whether it went down well or if people are hoping that your WiFi connection fails. The first time I realised this I did take a moment to process that silence was not (necessarily) disapproving, and I was able to carry on as I normally would, but it is something that might be helpful to know ahead of time.
  3. Before readings started, there was this guy who came in twice to shout things. It was a very uninteresting performance.

But overall I genuinely enjoyed reading and being present for the readings of others, even though I did feel a little impolite sipping my cup of tea in my tiny segment of the screen.

I’ve got two more performances scheduled in May, but at the moment it’s uncertain as to whether they’ll be able to be carried out in person or not. One of them definitely has a virtual option, and honestly I’d be more than happy to do many more online readings.

I actually feel a lot more connected to the poetry community since the pandemic than I did prior. It feels a lot more inclusive at the moment. I really hope this feeling will be maintained even after we’re able to interact in person again.