Ejecting Zoom “bombers”, coordinating acts from as far away as the Philippines and playing puns; it’s all in the night’s work for Angeline Schellenberg, host of Winnipeg’s longest-running series of open-mic poetry readings.
“I’m here to make every Speaking Crow event look and feel good: I guess that makes me an accomplice to murder,” Schellenberg says dryly.
She began hosting tasks in March 2020, but with COVID-19, the event, which had previously been held at the Carol Shields Auditorium at the Millennium Library, moved online and into participants’ homes.
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Find Talking Raven on Facebook @SpeakingCrow. Gatherings are held every first Tuesday of the month. The next event will take place on February 1.
Admission is free for artists and spectators.
“I’ve only hosted in person once again at the library; most of my work has been on Zoom,” says Schellenberg, who had twice replaced former host Steve Locke.
Speaking Crow evenings begin with a poem about a crow (a group of crows is called a murder) and a 15-minute performance by an accomplished Manitoba poet or spoken word artist, followed by an open mic.
“I work hard to attract a diverse mix of star readers,” Schellenberg says.
“I bring in poetry superstars like Dennis Cooley, Di Brandt and Duncan Mercredi, but I also love introducing the community to new artists like first-time author Tamar Rubin and young slam poet Victoria Redsun. ”
For Schellenberg, the shift from real life to virtual brings its own challenges.
As a host, there’s more to think about when reading online, and it’s also harder to soak up the poems, she says.
“I’m sure I’m not the only writer who regrets hearing audience reactions while I read,” she says.
“The laughs, gasps, sighs and applause were valuable comments on the lines that hit home.”
While the library is a convenient place for people living downtown, Zoom is more accessible in some ways, but less so in others.
“We’ve lost a few regulars who may be uncomfortable in front of the camera, lack reliable internet access, or feel all zoomed out from work or school at the end of the day,” Schellenberg says.
Teacher Ted Landrum began attending Speaking Crow at Aqua Books in the summer of 2008 and has continued to attend since it went live.
“I missed a few, but try to join you every month if I can. Poetry is all the more urgent as people are isolated and society is even more fragmented than usual,” says Landrum.
“We may be connecting online, but the exchange is real, because the language is real, so is the poetry.” The advantages of moving online outweigh the disadvantages of virtual events, they say.
“We’ve expanded our reach. Writers who had difficulty attending due to distance or disability can now come,” Schellenberg said.
“I’ve heard from grateful attendees who’ve wanted to come for years but didn’t have the health or confidence to do so in person.”
“We have expanded our reach. Writers who have struggled to attend due to distance or disability can now come. – Angeline Schellenberg
Being online has made poetry more inclusive, adds Landrum.
“The space and place of a live poetry reading, in person, is never reducible to the single place where the participants have physically gathered; a poem read, aloud or silently, has several places in he, just like a poem has many voices, some muted, some not,” Landrum says.
“A poem occurs wherever people hear it, see it, or project it.”
Fiona Smith, who first read Speaking Crow last February, credits the experience with “opening up her world”.
After her performance, Smith was inspired to attend a virtual writing workshop, which culminated in her reading at last year’s World Poetry Day international online event.
“Joining made me consider other possibilities. Who would have thought that showing up to a virtual poetry night could have such a big impact! Obviously, there’s magic in Speaking Crow,” Smith says.
Landrum also benefited from the regular rallies.
“The ability to exchange poetry – supported on a regular basis – has led to a collection of poems that I might not otherwise have been able to publish,” he says.