On Oct. 29, McGill’s McSWAY Poetry Collective resumed their open mic series with “Virtual Voice and Verse.” While their open mics are usually held on campus, the warmth and invitation of the performers’ lyrical and unique poetry nevertheless fostered its own virtual community. Featuring Lucia de Luca, B.Ed ’20, a McSWAY alum and emerging spoken word artist, the event’s stellar lineup vouched for the McGill community’s creative spirit, often numbed by the rigours of academia. Through the open mic, McSWAY treated its guests with a gift—one of collective experience, a simultaneous awe and desire to discover more.
“Virtual Voice and Verse” welcomed a group of McGill poets of different backgrounds and styles, ranging from undergraduates and first-time members to graduate students and McSWAY executives. Within this range came a striking variety—no poem was exactly like the other, and each one had a distinct story to tell. Topics like love and protection, Canada’s diverse ecology, life’s horrors, nostalgic music, reflections on the past, home, and belonging were avenues through which the performers could share their experiences and ideas with the audience. To conclude the event, de Luca shared personal and powerful pieces “Ciao” and “Fiadone,” which retrospectively mapped her life.
In an interview with The McGill Tribune, Amanda Ventrudo, U2 Arts and McSWAY’s Vice-President of Communications, spoke about the vital services McSWAY offers to McGill students looking to develop their poetic voices. In her three years as a member and executive, Ventrudo has found that the process of sharing her work has been daunting at times, but a fulfilling and cathartic experience nonetheless.
“Having a space to share runs parallel to developing as a poet and further expressing yourself,” Ventrudo said. “Going to our events, no matter how formal, is an excuse to polish your work, to practice, to edit.”
The need for creative spaces is a sentiment felt by many performers, and encouragement from the crowd often alleviates some of the anxiety that comes with performing. In person, this validation would be in the form of loud claps, cheers, and snaps, while on Zoom, the chat box fills with positive messages. Ventrudo noted that during the pandemic, fostering a sense of community remains a priority for McSWAY, and that one benefit of online spaces is their accessibility. McSWAY maintained a safe and inclusive atmosphere by having community representatives assist with content warnings, provide feedback to the open-mic’s performers, and give a land acknowledgement that called for audience members to support Indigenous artists.
“Accessibility is vital in any expressive space,” Ventrudo said. “Knowing that you’re safe is important to us, as it removes that sense of doubt.”
As more poets join McSWAY’s events, the seemingly formal boundaries of poetry vary and change.
“There is an exclusive reputation of poetry […] of the cheesy Notes app poems, […] of the left/right brain myth, […] but in sharing, it’s clear that all poetry has merit,” Ventrudo said.
As an executive, Ventrudo works on collaborating with different groups and students on campus. One notable collaboration was their June 2020 virtual open mic co-hosted with Queer McGill. Collaboration increases awareness and allows McSWAY’s events to intersect with the shared experiences of McGill students.
“McGill has a broad student body and community, and there’s no specific niche, no perfect subset to poetry or creativity,” Ventrudo said.
McSWAY’s reach is extensive, stretching past the McGill community due in part to its continuous programming that provides access to dedicated writing spaces. In fact, because of Zoom’s capacity for worldwide connectivity, McSWAY’s summer open mic had performers based in Australia and Chicago.
During the pandemic and beyond, McSWAY allows for its members to connect over a shared practice and appreciation of the spoken word. The club offers an accessible outlet for creativity, and a much-needed collective experience for our socially-distanced reality.
McSWAY’s upcoming events include the next open mic in November, their annual “Heartbreak Museum,” and their slam competition in March.