A lingering phenomenon of the recent and continuing COVID-19 Pandemic is the so-called “Hybrid” poetry reading. During the height of the disease, it allowed groups to get together virtually, almost always on Zoom, and continue to hold their open mic readings as usual. An obvious drawback is that those less than tech-savvy would be unable to join in or do so with great difficulty and plenty of glitches along the way. There are already such living cliches of behavior as the unattended camera, the black screen while one steals away for more “coffee,” and the ever-popular “UNMUTE YOURSELF.” Like with VCRs, the telephone, and soap, there will always be some of us who never quite get the hang of it, forever betraying our ages by what milestone of invention usage we have managed to stumble up to.
Recently I was one of the featured readers at a monthly series that had embraced livestreaming since even the Before Times. Calling All Poets is unique in that they use a giant portable screen to project Zoomers onto. This dramatically improves the experience for those attending in person, even though for those Zooming, it is business as usual. The plusses are many. One of the open mic poets was coming to us from New Zealand. Another was in southern Florida. Locally, this format enables one to attend when one is just too tired after a day of work to get back in the car for even a short ride.
The evening was not without the usual glitches – muting when reading, loss of connection, poor cameras, and ultimately a loss of the feed altogether. The venue, once an artistic center of some merit for many years, has fallen into disrepair under new management, and among multiple signs of age, their Wifi was unstable. Live attendees were asked to turn their phones to airplane mode to allow enough bandwidth for the Zoom session. But the giant screen is an advantage I’ve not seen anywhere else. An expense to be sure, it adds a visual element that enhances the event tremendously. When it’s good, it’s very, very good.
Many readings that thrived prior to the Pandemic have not returned due to their venues closing, hosts unwilling to risk contamination, or simply a lack of desire to return to the surprising grind of running a regular event. I have hosted several reading series over the years, and despite what it looks like, there is some preparation required. I do miss the simple days of passing around the sign-in sheet, trying to make out a name in particularly squirrelly handwriting, sitting close, drinking much, and gossiping afterwards.
I am attending another reading this weekend which now requires pre-registration online, and has a limited number of spaces available. The venue, a local library, has also forbidden the sale of books onsite. Public venues, without broader guidelines offered by a government still reeling from years of deception, pushback, and downright malicious actions, has been unable to pull together to guide us going forward from the lowest days of COVID. Overkill is common. Disease will be with us always. I am triple vaccinated, and making an appointment shortly for another booster. My money’s on the science, not the psychos. I have faith, too, that readings will flourish again, in one form or another. I’ve been participating in the arts long enough to know that like pandemics, there are highs and lows. Some years I’d have three or four readings to attend every week, and still be at work by 8:00am. Today I need my sleep, and if I so desire, I can simply “tune in” at my desk to hear poets from all over the world discussing the same basic fears, passions, desires that poets always have. Some things will absolutely never change.