If you could go back in time just one time, I’d recommend dialing the clock back about five years and scarfing up stock in Zoom.
Look at what’s going on as people sequester themselves during the current health threat. Poets, writers, and artists of whatever medium now seek alternative avenues to reach people with online options presenting the most popular virtual venues.
And Zoom now seems to be the preferred platform.
“We’re fairly new,” said Linda Ravenswood, Editor-in-Chief of the independent Los Angeles Press as well as an organizer and sponsor for numerous public events. “We’ve been around since 2018.”
While new to sponsoring public literary events, she’s been using Zoom “as a teaching tool, [including] a senior workshop” at the Belmont Village in Westwood. She even goes beyond that, pointing to The Poetry Stream, an option that her press offers “that will allow people to book a poet for one-on-one critiques or feedback and readings.”
Ravenswood appreciates the online portal as a new form of “community platform” for featuring “poets, short story writers, artists” not only in Los Angeles but also San Francisco and San Diego, even beyond. She used to employ Skype, but “most people are using Zoom these days. We use Zoom two or three items a week because we’re aligned with the Poetry Society of New York.”
Her press also co-operates with groups such as Beyond Baroque, Poetry Parlor, Melrose Review, Red Hen Press, Red Light Lit and Poetry Brothel, an international consortium of writers as well as musicians and actors that acts as “an extension of vaudevillian” style including a new wrinkle she called “a bro-lesque.”
Such an expansion of the virtual stage is happening all over.
“We began to host online open mics on March 26,” noted Daniel Gallant, Executive Director of Nurorican Poets Café out of New York. “We started with one online open mic per week, expanded to two open mics per week and added poetry, music and monologue showcases as well as panel and education events.”
Don Kingfisher Campbell, publisher of Spectrum, another small press in Los Angeles, has been using Zoom since the start of April for both workshops and readings with a fine measure of success as has the Los Angeles Poet Society (LAPS).
“We just began in April as a way to have a space for people to congregate and share their art,” said Jessica Wilson, Founder and Executive Director of LAPS. She admitted that her group “wasn’t that fast to jump on to the [Zoom] option, but once on, I like using it.”
She savors the intimacy it affords at a time when people are physically isolated, an idea that Gallant seconds, noting that “Zoom is very useful and flexible for crowd-sourced events. The capability to see and interact with dozens of artists and spectators lends our Zoom events a sense of community.”
Campbell appreciates that people are freed of physical limitations that normally become a consideration. Now those interested can join in on a reading they might not usually have been able to get to.
“I think a tremendous plus side is you don’t have to drive to the reading,” he said, adding that during one Spectrum reading, New York City’s Joan McNirny was able to present her work. This is an idea seconded by Wilson, who likes “that events expand to new audiences.”
She also has seen an increase in the virtual gatherings. LAPS held one recently with 19 people, “and the majority of those got to read.”
This doesn’t mean the online option represents perfection. Campbell sees “some definite likes and dislikes, but we learn that through trial and error.”
Perhaps the need for higher speed processing and excellent internet connection are the key factors that he finds most “frustrating,” but he believes he is learning the curve as well “as isolating video to one person and getting rid of background. We were able to solve both problems because when we go to one screen for one person, you can [also] mute everyone else.”
“The platform is not as secure as it should be,” Gallant observed. “Party crashers try to interrupt the events, and our staff puts in a lot of effort to deter those interruptions.We hope to find a long-term solution [and construct] a platform that is welcoming and accessible for all attendees and participants, but that also includes more robust security features.”
Wilson sees Instagram as having the potential for more viewers because of its open aspects while one has to log on to Zoom, but she wants to open things up even more. To that end, while she does need to create the required meeting number to grant people access to any scheduled reading, she has “cut out the password option to make it easier for participants and viewers.”
As Eric Morago of Moon Tide Press noted in an earlier Cultural Weekly piece, Campbell also notes that, because there isn’t the physical means for fundraising, another “downside was the inability to meet for the annual poetry fest, so there’s two edges to that.”
However, because of self-isolation, Ravenswood finds that “this online world is really helping us stay afloat until we can get back to meeting people’s needs to have art or lit in their lives.”
LAPS has used “Instagram live and FB live, but Zoom seems to be working and lots of people are familiar with the trend as opposed to gotomeeting,” Wilson said. She sees it as allowing more promotional opportunities.
“We’re expanding our network,” Wilson said. “We’re leaning toward Zoom more because of more capacity and the option of the recording mode.”
Gallant’s group also employs various portals—including “Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, e-blasts and our website to promote the events.”
However, he declared, “As of now, all of our events take place on Zoom. We are experimenting with other platforms for future events.”
What happens once life gets back to normal—whatever that might look like going forward?
Perhaps Campbell summed it up best: “I love the advantage of people from anywhere can join. I’m not sure how, but maybe there’s a way to do both.”