Writing Together in the Zoom Room – the pros and the cons

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I’ve been leading Amherst Method writing groups since 2008 – in arts venues, in community centres, in my local library, and from the sitting room of my house in north Leitrim. In late March 2020, shortly after lockdown was announced, we left my sitting-room and entered into the Zoom-room.

The first few sessions were challenging. Together we learned a new and unfamiliar technology; we learned how to function as a group in a virtual space; we learned how to be spontaneous, while also being respectful of each other’s voices.

Some things stayed the same. As before, people gathered once a fortnight to write together in a safe and inspiring environment, based on the Amherst Method guidelines. At each session I offered a prompt and invited the group to write in response. Silence fell as words poured onto the page, for 10, 20, 30 minutes. If someone got stuck I met them one-to-one in a private “breakout room”, to help them find their flow again.

As before, I invited people to read what they had written; the group practised the skill of “close listening” – a vital skill for every writer; and those who chose to read received positive feedback that helped them develop their voices. People wrote about everything under the sun in these sessions, including the minuscule virus that had upended their lives. One person wrote the first chapter of a witty Zoom-room murder mystery…

Sometimes a video connection broke down, sometimes the audio was glitchy – in rural Ireland strong broadband is a gift, not a given. The disadvantages of writing together online are obvious: you don’t get to meet your fellow participants in the flesh; you can’t read their body language or hear their small gasps of admiration as you read your work; you don’t get to chat one-to-one during the break.

But there are advantages. You can join in from anywhere in the world. And you don’t have to get into your car on a dark, blustery winter’s night to drive to my sitting-room in north Leitrim.

2020 Allingham Poetry & Flash Fiction Competitions Open

Tom Sigafoos

Allingham Festival

The 2020 Allingham Flash Fiction and Poetry Competitions are open for entries. Top prizes are €300 for winners in each category; entry fees are €5 per poem or FF story. Details are found on-line at https://www.allinghamfestival.com/fiction-poetry-competitions

The deadline for entries is Sept 28. Denise Blake, poet and frequent contributor to Sunday Miscellany, will manage this year’s competitions.

Broadcast as a series of virtual events between Nov 4-8, the 2020 Allingham Festival will include readings by the winners of the Poetry and Flash Fiction Competitions, a concert, and an interview with actor Adrian Dunbar (Line of Duty). Details of the developing schedule can be found on the Allingham Festival website https://www.allinghamfestival.com

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Raw Material

Yup – even a pandemic…

Tom Sigafoos

“A writer — and, I believe, generally all persons — must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource. All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art.”  — Jorge Luis Borges, quoted in Twenty-Four Conversations with Borges by Roberto Alifano

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Free Virtual Allingham Concert – Thursday 16 July, 9:00 pm

Tom Sigafoos

Allingham Festival organisers, in association with Ballyshannon’s Abbey Arts Centre, will broadcast a Virtual Allingham Concert on Thursday, 16 July.

Featuring new contributors and favourite performers from past Allingham Festivals, the Virtual Concert will be live-streamed at 9:00 pm on Thursday evening on the Allingham Facebook channel and on YouTube.

Contributors will include:

  • Musicians Marie Askin, Grainne McMenamin and Eamon Travers, Shauna Mullin and Damien McGeehan

  • Poets Monica Corish, Colm Keegan, John O’Donnell and Chris Sparks

  • Popular Sunday Miscellany contributor Olive Travers

  • “A Little Touch of Magic,” a new film by Emer O’Shea

  • Scenes from “Much Ado About Nothing” by Sean Donegan and the Ballyshannon Summer Shakespeare Group

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Episode 4: Lunasa

Lugh – Brian Froud – cropTune in to the Glens Centre YouTube channel on Friday, June 26  at 8 PM, to hear poems, stories and songs inspired by Lunasa. The cycle of the year that began with the dark of Samhain is crowned by the brightness of Lugh, and by the harvest festival held in his name. As part of our Lunasa workshop we visited the Shannon Pot and the Cavan Burren, an extraordinary landscape of weathered limestone and megalithic monuments crafted by Ireland’s first farmers.

This episode will feature writing from Tom Sigafoos, Paula Lahiff, Shane Leavy, Dermot Lahiff and Monica Corish; and singing from Tara Baoth Mooney and Maggie Kilcoyne. This event is a fundraiser for North West STOP Suicide Prevention, which provides counselling support for people at risk of suicide. Donations can be made through their website, or through Facebook.

Image credit: Lugh, Brian Froud

Writing prompt for the Crossing Borders Open-Mic: Interiors and Edges

The endlessly inventive and productive people at Across the Lines (IFI) / Open Mic Manor / The Thing Itself are inviting video or audio contributions for their next Crossing Borders Open Mic Online (IFI). The theme for this event is “Way-points and Markers” – the places, journeys and signposts that have marked our individual and collective transitions over the last three months.  They invited me to come up with a prompt to spark contributions. Here it is:

Hestia is the Greek goddess of interiors, of contemplative time and space. She is the hearth-fire that makes a house into a home.

Hermes is the trickster god of travel, trade, computers, protector of doorways and boundaries, the messenger and mover, the communicator.

In her books “Goddesses in Everywoman” and “Gods in Everyman”, Jean Shinoda Bolen tells how these two very different archetypes  are related. In Greek households the “herm” – a pillar symbolizing Hermes – stood just outside the front door, in a distinct but intimate connection with Hestia’s hearth-fire at the centre .

I invite you to see in your mind’s eye a place that represents the containment of “lockdown”; and a place that represents the process of “unlocking”. These places may be in the geography of your home, your county, your country, the world; or virtual places; or the space inside the arms of someone you love – a hug you are grateful to have received during lockdown, or a hug you are still yearning towards.

Whatever spaces come to you, feel them through your senses, through smell, and sight and touch and sound. And then write about these two spaces, placing them in relationship each with the other.

Image by Varun Kulkarni from Pixabay crop

Photo credits:

 

Episode 2: Imbolc

snowdrops and snowTune in to the Glens Centre YouTube channel on Friday, June 12 at 8 PM, to hear poems, stories and songs inspired by Imbolc, by Spring, and by Brigid, Goddess and Saint. This episode will feature writing from:

  • Monica Corish,
  • Shane Leavy,
  • Dermot Lahiff,
  • Paula Lahiff,
  • Tara Baoth Mooney,
  • Margaret Timoney
  • Tom Sigafoos.

This event is a fundraiser for North West STOP Suicide Prevention, which provides counselling support for people at risk of suicide. Donations can be made through their website, or through Facebook.

Writing Prompts from the Cocoon, June 2

This will be my last Writing Prompt from the Cocoon for a while – not because I am fully out of lockdown, but because summer is here and it’s time to concentrate on my own writing.

I leave you with another ekphrasticprompt, from this excellent Facebook page where members recreate famous works of art – in this case Кира Викторовна’s recreation of Salvador Dali’s 1925 work, “Girl at the Window“. You might write in response to either one of the images, or you might decide to place them in dialogue with each other.

Girl at the Window, after Dali

Two sources of prompts to keep you going over the summer:

  • Every week O Bhéal post a new five word poetry competition
  • The Poets and Writers website posts “a poetry prompt on Tuesdays, a fiction prompt on Wednesdays, and a creative nonfiction prompt on Thursdays”

Happy writing – stay well, stay safe, stay creative – Monica