10 TRIES, 100 POEMS (TAKE 3) :: ANEESAH ETTRESS AND XIOMARA RODRIGUEZ :: FIELD NOTES :: THE POETICS OF PLACE-MAKING
This entry is the third installment of 10 Tries, 100 Poems, a Field Notes mini-series in which poets participate in experimental workshops that engage issues of digital media literacy in the age of fake news. In this installment, authors Aneesah Ettress and Xiomara Rodriguez take on the subjects of intimacy, safe spaces, and “place-making” in virtual contexts, and provide documentation of poets participating in what Ettress describes as “an engaged act of digital citizenship.” Watch 360 video footage of the workshop participants responding through poetry to US immigration policy and the border wall, and capturing the lived experiences of Latinx folks who are undocumented in the U.S. [2018 series editor: Adrian Silbernagel]
In the Spring of 2017, I was invited to participate in and support the poetry work around Alex Juhasz’s #100HardTruths-#FakeNews project. Xiomara Rodriguez, then an intern at Occidental College’s Center for Digital Liberal Arts, had been collaborating with Alex and Craig Dietrich to edit and link the content in a Scalar “book” made from the original online digital media literacy primer. While it was in production, I had the privilege of reading through its content and found that truth #99, “information overflow needs positive feedback effects” resonated with me the strongest. Amidst the fake news and Trump election frenzy, I felt overwhelmed and a bit hopeless with the barrage of media and information I was inundated with, and as a result, significantly reduced the news that I consumed. Alex’s project was a reprieve for me.
Juhasz writes: “this is a digital primer about, within, and against information overload in network societies — in the guise of #fakenews and all it might bear — and about how we might start to think our way through it.” Here poetry enters as a meaningful praxis for disengaging information overload. On March 3rd, I had the privilege of bearing witness and documenting the radical media literacy poetry workshop that Alex facilitated with the Los Angeles Get Lit Players. It was in this workshop and the Monday night reception that I understood Alex’s project as more than a mere response, but a revival of engaged critical media citizenship.
One of the recurring themes that came up during Alex Juhasz’s poetry workshop with the Get Lit players was the importance of the internet as a space where people find community. The poets focused some of the dialogue around the Get Lit organization’s physical space being a community space, comparing it to digital community space. Notions of authentic relationships and safe spaces came to the forefront of the discussion. In their dialogue, the poets were taking part of an active place-making: agreeing, riffing, and questioning internet communities and the digital information age in real time, fully present with one another. This activity primed the meaning-creation of their writing and performance.
We chose to document the poems in 360 video using a Samsung Gear 360. The goal in capturing the poetry in 360 video was to recreate the poetry space and meaning-making. On the following Monday, the Get Lit players and Oxy community were to gather in the Johnson Hall Global Forum to view and partake in more radical digital media literacy, via the performance of selected poems, a display of the #100HardTruths project on the Global Crossroads Wall, and through the experience of the Get Lit poems in Oxy’s HTC Vive.
Monday night’s #100HardTruths reception was an epic convergence of mediums towards “radical digital media literacy.” Oxy community members, the Get Lit players, and faculty from other institutions were present. The reception cut through the information overload and got to the heart of the issues through poetry. One poem focused on the themes of US immigration policy, the border wall, and the lived experiences of Latinx folks who are undocumented in the US. It was then performed on the second story of Johnson Hall by the Get Lit player who authored it, Arlene Campa. Arlene’s recitation of her poem was prophetic in nature as she stood above the audience speaking out and into the openness of the Global Forum. With her project displayed on the wall, the symbolism could be likened to the “writing on the wall,” a warning and signaling of things that already are and have yet to come for the Latinx community and US immigration policy.
Having different modes and mediums in which to engage public discourse is essential to affecting change. It is for this reason that the virtual reality component to the #100HardTruths event at Occidental College was so powerful. Using the Vive, participants were able to be transported into the Get Lit space — into the middle of a circle of poets responding to Fake News. The virtual component allowed for active participation, rather than passive consumption, of Alex Juhasz’s workshop [See hardtruth #55: Choose to be digitally productive rather than reactive]. Asking attendees of the event to physically and actively take part was a powerful way to resist complacency. (Another truth that resonated with me, especially after the election of Donald Trump, it is that complacency is deadly.) Moreover, the 360 video was intimate, and demonstrated how important digital community can be to people. Although digital community spaces can be very dangerous and muddy the truth, they are real communities and this tension is expressed perfectly in the virtual reality video we took of the Get Lit poets.
After taking a look through some of the photos and video shot on Saturday and Monday, I would like to end by reflecting on the following questions.
1) Are there other mediums and modes in which we can engage radical digital media literacy and public discourse? If so, what are they, what are there possibilities and limitations?
2) From participation in the workshop, it seems that these experimental discourses happen with and for liberal and/or relatively well-educated communities. How might this discourse be made more conceptually accessible for those who are not equipped with our ‘toolkit’ of engagement?
3) To what extent can folks be transported to a place in virtual reality and grasp the depth of meaning in that place, without physically being there? To what extent can virtual environments recreate lived experience?
Follow the links to read other installments of 10 Tries, 100 Poems:
Aneesah Ettress is a Mellon Postbaccalaureate Fellow at Occidental College’s Center for Digital Liberal Arts, where she is working on the implementation of undergraduate research in the Arts and Humanities curriculum. Her research interests include marginalized early Christian narratives, icons, and religious practice. Aneesah will continue her studies at the University of Chicago Divinity School this fall.
Xiomara Rodriguez is the Digital Scholarship Editor at Occidental College, and a Computer Science major focusing on the use of technology as a tool for radical change and decolonization. Xiomara uses technology to tackle the mass incarceration of Black and Brown people and the school to prison pipeline.