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. I learned a lot about how to lead my own group logistically and started developing “A guide to Making a Poetry Group” for myself- which is basically a notebook where I wrote down everything that happened, my ideas, and the things that I learned.

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.

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One thought on “a guide to making a poetry group

  1. thank you for sharing this fatimah!…”…specifically how important individual storytelling is in increasing agency in conflict memorialization and creating multiple truths to nuance ideas of history.” i completely agree with the power that individual stories have in being able to 1. hold history, 2. redefine archives and 3. create or recreate memories…

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