Sony Ton-Aime’s dream is for the new online iteration of Chautauqua’s Poetry Makerspace to be a place where people can simply sit for a moment in peace and interact with poetry.
The new microsite, which operates concurrently with the physical Poetry Makerspace located in the Hultquist Center near the Amphitheater, acts as a portal to Chautauqua’s various online literary arts endeavors.
The CHQ Assembly platform, literary arts workshops and the Emerge Poetry feature — the latter of which allows visitors to the site to create their own poetry using poems from their favorite writers — are just a few of the facets of poetry.chq.org.
“This microsite will not only be a portal to the literary arts, but a portal that will aim to bring people together and open to new places where we can, through creative means and collaboration, find solace in our lives,” said Ton-Aime, Chautauqua’s director of literary arts.
Though Ton-Aime said the COVID-19 pandemic “forced our hand” when it came to closing the physical Poetry Makerspace for the season and creating the microsite, he also said the idea for making an online literary arts portal had been around for some time.
“With the pandemic, it became not only something to think about, but something we needed to do,” he said. “The idea was for us to be able to coordinate with people in an online space, and to show that Chautauqua has been thinking about long-term goals when it comes to literary arts.”
One of those long-term goals, according to Ton-Aime, is to make the new poetry microsite into a place where teachers from all over the world can bring their classes and interact with the Makerspace in a virtual setting.
“In the future, we’d like there to be a classroom feature where people can come and everyone can interact, so that the creative writing process can happen on that website,” he said.
Ton-Aime said that a key aspect of the microsite is its Thread Poetry feature, which will seek to patch together thousands of stanzas submitted to the site by ordinary people, as a way of memorializing the upheaval of the 2020 season.
“People can write about their favorite Chautauqua experiences, and at the end of the season, we’re going to collect all of those stanzas and make a seamless poem out of them,” he said. “This poem will be a way for us to remember this extraordinary season that we’re getting through right now.”
The microsite also plays host to the Traveling Stanzas project, which pairs poems generated in community writing workshops with graphic designs and disseminates the artwork on public transportation, in partnership with the Wick Poetry Center’s Traveling Stanzas at Kent State University.
“This is just the start of the microsite,” Ton-Aime said. “We’ll be working to monitor the enthusiasm of the way people respond to it. We’ll have this microsite for a long time, and hopefully in 40 years we won’t even be able to recognize this first step. We’re going to make it something bigger, something collaborative with other institutions and with the world.”