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Verbal Blend Uses Online Space to Continue Creative Engagement
The coronavirus pandemic has changed the spring 2020 semester, but Cedric T. Bolton has found a novel way to keep his students connected to their friends and their passion for poetry.
Bolton, student engagement coordinator in the Office of Multicultural Affairs, is the creator of Verbal Blend, Syracuse University’s premier spoken-word program designed to enhance students’ confidence in writing and performing original poems. The program accomplishes this through a writer’s workshop series, peer reviews and performances.
With the semester now being completed by students in their homes across the globe, Bolton has drawn on his deep well of experience and knowledge of technology to create an online space for students and alumni to connect and continue to engage in the creative work they did on campus.
Verbal Blend will host a virtual Unplugged Poets event today from 6:30 to 8 p.m. The event is an open mic night that will provide students an online space to share their work and reconnect with fellow students and members of the campus community. Two forms of expression, such as poetry and song, are welcome. To attend, students must register with at firstname.lastname@example.org. Students will then receive a Zoom invitation from which they can join the event.
On the three subsequent Thursdays, April 16, 23 and 30, Verbal Blend will host virtual writer’s workshops via Zoom from 6:30 to 8 p.m. These are opportunities for students and alumni to share their work and receive feedback from fellow students. Contact Bolton at email@example.com to register for the workshops.
Bolton held the first a virtual workshop via Zoom on March 25. On a white board, he provided the group with a prompt—social distancing. That prompt evoked a wide range of responses, from “anxiety,” “depression” and “job loss” to “hope,” “well-being” and “balance,” and got the students brainstorming.
The workshops are a great way for students to engage, Bolton says. “Students share poems, offer critique, feedback and ideas, and alums come back and share their experiences and what they are doing professionally,” he says. “It’s opening a new door for things to think about and how to be innovative in our approach to connecting.” This experience in creating new ways to connect out of necessity is giving Bolton ideas on how to infuse virtual connections into programming when the pandemic is over and life returns to some kind of normal.
Verbal Blend has become an integral part of the college experience for Laurie Fernández, a sophomore art education major in the College of Visual and Performing Arts, who has found a home with Verbal Blend. She began participating in poetry workshops in the fall semester of her first year.
“I remember wanting so badly to find a student organization or department program where I could go and feel like I should be there because I was meant to be there. Verbal Blend become that student program for me,” Fernandez says. She has continued her growth as a poet with Verbal Blend and hosted poetry workshops with Nu Rho Poetic Society for the youth of the Syracuse Wilson Park Community Center earlier this semester.
Andrenne Rogers, a sophomore film major in the College of Visual and Performing Arts, says she is grateful for the Zoom workshops Bolton has created. “I already have a passion for poetry; it is a really useful tool to help me process emotions. I also love to share these thoughts and feelings with other people,” she says. “Verbal Blend is an important space because I can share my feelings and connect with others. Especially because I went from being in college and having constant access to my friends to being at home with minimized contact. I value still being a part of a community despite the physical distance.”
Imani Wallace ’16, is the educator, activist and spoken-word poet known as Lyrical Faith. For her, Verbal Blend has always been a home away from home.
“Verbal Blend has helped to cultivate me into the poet I am today, so any way I can help or support Verbal Blend now as an alum, I am more than willing to do so,” she says. “When Cedric announced that he was opening up the current workshops to alumni, I cleared my schedule to be a part of it. Turns out, it was just what I needed to get my gears going in time and overcome my writer’s block so that I could participate in 30 for 30 in celebration of National Poetry Month,” Wallace says. “I think this was an amazing idea with perfect timing, and it has motivated me these past several weeks to continue my writing, uplifted my spirits and connected us with other poets while we need it the most.”
Above all, Bolton reminds his students that even in this chaotic and challenging time, they remain artists at their very core. “As artists, we have a responsibility to capture moments like this. We are the ones who sing the songs, write the poems and dance the recitals,” he says. “We need to explore this moment and figure out ways we can inspire the world when its down. We continue to have responsibilities to be civically engaged and contribute to the world.”