We’re back with the third instalment in our online events dialogue series. Online events are becoming the new normal, and even when we can all meet in person again, our digital event organisers think that online is here to stay (at least in part – we’d miss the egg sandwiches and bad coffee too much). Last month we heard about nearly-carbon-neutral conferences and a digital lecture series, and before that, we were inspired by an enterprising twitter conference and by the agility of an international conference to make the digital switch. This month, we’re going artsy, with a reflection on how poetry is thriving in the digital space.
‘Dig-Lit’: An Antidote to Isolation
Roula-Maria Dib, American University in Dubai
With digital literary events, people are turning up, sometimes in tens, and at other times, in hundreds: people show up for the poetry – they are here for it.
A hundred ‘make it new’ post-Pound years later, we find that not only the poetry, but the setting is also being made new. While poets meet in digital events online, they are aware that there is a world that we are going to go back to, that we are looking forward to, and it’s going to be just great. But for the time being, we make do as we make it new…With ‘dig-lit’, there may be no physical stage and no shared physical space, but we still have the poet(s), the audience, and the feeling of each other’s energy.
And there is also the fact that there are more writers out there now: the existing ones who are doing well with more writing and international exposure, and the new but emboldened ones, who, through the magic of Zoom, are eager to participate and share their voices with the others. They are also busy reflecting and responding to the world around them.
Now is the time for the making and the consuming of literature, because, let’s face it: we need it now for solace, for understanding, and for comfort. More people want it, and more people are able to receive it and engage with it now because of the boundary-breaking that dig-lit offers. There is no ‘social’ distancing with it, as poetry communities and societies are now emerging and growing because of the easy interactions among its members.
As editor-in-chief of literary journal Indelible and director of its online literary salon, Indelible Evenings (which hosts poetry readings and other literary events), I have had the opportunity to observe the effects of digital literature (‘dig-lit’) during the pandemic. With Indelible, like many other digital literary platforms, poets may find a hosting environment where they can share and preserve their work. Their poems, being translations of experiences of the world around them, are what allow members to relate to one another, and admire each other’s works. During the onset of the pandemic, however, I witnessed an increase in the number of submissions. As a writer myself, I can understand the increased need to express—for me, it’s a way of trying to figure out the world around me and to get in touch with the world inside, which we don’t get to connect with often (for the lack of reflective time during the daily buzz of errands and time spent on the road). I noticed that during this time, there was also an increased interaction of journal contributors with one another via social media: ‘members’ were adding each other on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. They were conversing, commenting on each others’ works and photos, and all in all getting to know each other better. That was a pleasantly surprising organic budding of friendship and community. Then, the idea was to get everyone together in a shared (digital) space and real time. Since all of us were from different places around the world, and since the world was in lockdown, the decision was made to hold a series of virtual literary events consisting of poetry readings, interviews, workshops, and discussions with various literary figures such as Christine Murray, Steve Pottinger, Hedy Habra, Carly Brown, Bernard Pearson, Awais Khan, and Lorette Luzajic to name a few. With the pandemic bringing an end to campus life and our in-house, in-person, spoken-word poetry open mic events, we still wanted them to continue to live on through the best medium available: our series virtual live-streaming poetry readings.
People not only need poetry, but they also need to be together. Indelible not only needed to adapt, but it also wanted to evolve. This notion was instantly confirmed upon the success of the sudden shift to remote performances, when we launched the first virtual event, which was an open mic that brought together contributors, readers, and fans. There was no ‘social’ distancing through this medium. On the contrary, poetry and technology were social binders, despite the physical distancing—which was bound to be there in most cases anyway, due to the fact that our poets, readers, and fans, were from different regions. We have finally found a way to extend and transcend our physical boundaries of space and time, which otherwise would not have happened. Contributors would not have had the chance to ‘hang out’ during events, and the informality of the setting was just perfect for casual, warm socializing (the term ‘networking’ is a little too formal in such cases). People found their comfortable spots in comfortable clothes and shoes (or lack thereof) and brought their glasses of wine, cups of coffee, pizzas, pancakes, and pets along with them—only to accentuate the comforting effects of poetry. You didn’t need to be alone anymore to enjoy poetry by reading it in a cozy setting. You can now hear it live from the poet, whom you can cheer, compliment, and comment on live—again, from the comfort of your own home. Even one of the most notable literary figures, Jane Austen, once said: ‘There’s nothing like staying at home, for real comfort.’ And because of its practicality, comfort, and beautiful poetry, Indelible Evenings has drawn more people to the literary world, especially students.
The main impetus behind the initiation of the Indelible Evenings series, which proved itself true after the success of the events, is that our love for words and aesthetics is important, but only secondary to the belief that enjoying them through a shared experience is what unites people—poets or otherwise. Digital literature is an amazing opportunity to cut our own slice of cyberspace and share this indulgence in the power of poetic musicality and forget about the so-called ‘real’ world for just a couple of light-hours.