During Montreal’s strict COVID-19 public health measures in January 2021, close friends Sophia Blackburn, U3 Arts, and Carol Altimas, U3 Science, longed for the intimacy and creativity of poetry nights. As a remedy, they started their own poetry group, “Spilt Red Wine Poetry.” Since its creation, writers and listeners alike have congregated monthly over Zoom, and now in person, for vulnerable, raw, and honest poetry nights.
“The name itself symbolizes spilling your blood out into the world, because blood is very near and dear to your body, to your soul,” Blackburn said in an interview with The McGill Tribune. “We just wanted everyone to feel safe to express their soul in the most vulnerable, authentic way possible.”
It is a tradition for poets to simultaneously pour out some of their wine at the beginning of each poetry night. This act represents the vulnerability and honesty of sharing one’s work, and embodies the name “Spilt Red Wine.” When forming the group, Blackburn and Altimas aimed to design a space where people could feel safe, welcome, and at home, and where poets could bond over sharing their art. Central to a supportive environment, Altimas explained, is the idea of “holding space.”
“I feel like [Spilt Red Wine] allows people to have [a space where] we hear their words, and we’re holding them,” Altimas said. “And not necessarily physically, but we are holding space for them emotionally, mentally, and in our hearts.”
Although the group’s poetry nights were hosted over Zoom for the first six months, the last three events have been held in person. This month, over 20 people gathered in Mackenzie-King Park to share and listen to each other’s poetry over snacks and drinks. The atmosphere was friendly and welcoming, and there was no pressure to perform. Performers were celebrated not only for their poetry, but also for the act of being vulnerable. One poet recited a love letter about their favourite stock in the stock market, which was met with many laughs; another recited a poem about coffee.
Going forward, the group hopes that pandemic circumstances will allow for a physical sense of community to continue.
“We do prefer in-person events, because we get to meet everyone in person and connect physically,” Blackburn said. “So hopefully when the weather gets colder [we can move to] a bar or to someone’s apartment.”
On the other hand, Altimas recognized that online poetry nights, too, have the potential to bolster attendance and participation.
“I think if we did virtual events it would be awesome to see some of the friendly faces who can’t attend the in-person events,” Altimas said. “As long as we’re able to connect in person, it’s nice to take advantage of that.”
Spilt Red Wine events are open to all, whether you come alone, with friends, or with family.
“I feel like [Spilt Red Wine] has such a different energy,” Altimas said. “It’s very loving. [It] speaks a lot to the nature of the people that come.”
“You’re very welcome to join exactly as you are in that present moment,” Blackburn added.
Spilt Red Wine Poetry hosts events the first Saturday of every month.