a guide to making a poetry group

The last couple of months have been incredibly busy
here! I met a nonfiction writer here named Una and we decided to make a Slam
Poetry and Nonfiction writing group.   It was a slightly bizarre concept since most people
had never heard of ‘Slam Poetry’ or ‘Nonfiction’ and had no idea what a writing
group was and because I don’t believe in strict literary genres. So we decided
to have an intensive pilot program for two months and then see if it could be
something that could be more sustainable. Therefore, Everything in the last
couple of months has been really crazy.

 I am
really proud to say that the group- REFLEKS- was a huge success! The first
meeting we had was incredibly inspiring- about 18 people showed up (most of
them new writers) and everyone was really excited to try something new. I
performed for the Spoken Word group and showed them a couple of other examples
of poems. Then, we wrote together off of a prompt- Describe a city from the
perspective of that city. I was so impressed with everyone’s writing. Then, we
had a really critical discussion about multimedia artwork. Afterwards, a lot of
people stayed and talked about the group, their writing, and their goals. It
was a very beautiful space.

As the group developed, we began to have a core
group of writers. Since the workshop was half in Bosnian and half in English I
was really pleased to find that the core group of writers was a pleasant mix of
internationals and local people. 
Sadly, the nonfiction component sort of fell away because people
preferred doing Spoken Word. However, it was a really beautiful space and every
meeting was really great- people were willing to write, take risks, and support
each other’s growing craft. Towards the end we began to workshop performance
more, which was absolutely fantastic.

The workshop gave me a lot of ideas about art and
memorialization- specifically how important individual storytelling is in
increasing agency in conflict memorialization and creating multiple truths to
nuance ideas of history. Spoken Word is a wonderful medium for that- having the
performer confront their own history and figure out how to lyrically express
their story, and then having the audience deal with seeing a body perform the
story itself. Often in artistic conflict memorialzation the body is erased or
devalued into an abstract identity- such as a sculpture or painting or
monument. Very rarely is the presence of a body confronted at all, therefore
creating silences around the very bodies that experienced the legacy of this
conflict in some way. Therefore, artistic performance becomes a very
interesting way of confronting the body, the storytelling, and the conflict
itself.

Perhaps that is why spaces like “The Sarajevo War
Theater” (which I recently started working with) are so important- they
memorialize conflict by making us confront performance that deals explicitly
with the body and the stories. By providing a space rather than a memorial,
they push the boundaries of what ‘memorialization’ means into an understanding
of it as something shifting, something that changes along with time. Therefore,
it allows the memorialization to fully adapt along with present day realities,
rather than erecting a fixed monument. Therefore, performance seems to allow a
more nuanced perspective of memorialization than some other traditional
artistic ideas of memorialization.

But back on track. We are gearing up to start the
writing group again and to hopefully put on multiple performances and slams that
showcase our work. I am really excited to do this, though it’s a bit hard since
Una left so I am trying to do this by myself. However, the ideas of performance
and conflict memorialization  are
still developing and I think this is something I want to shift my research to
and perhaps work on in the future.