The Poetry Vlog is nurturing a community of poets in ways that has never been done before. I had the chance to sit down and chat with poet, scholar, and creator of The Poetry Vlog, C.R. Grimmer. C. R. has recently published the chapbook O-Ezekiel’s Wife through GASHER. Her project has featured youth poet laureates and poets such as Jane Wong, Jericho Brown, and Prageeta Sharma.
Emily Joy Oomen (EJO): What is The Poetry Vlog?
C.R. Grimmer (CRG): The Poetry Vlog is a social justice teaching YouTube channel dedicated to building social justice coalitions through poetry, arts, and higher education dialogue.
EJO: How did the vlog start?
CRG: I started the vlog because I love talking to poets, talking about poetry, and think it’s so much more relevant to pop culture now than ever, especially in relation to racial equity and queer communities which are usually marginalized and not centered in higher education.
The existing platforms for talking about poetry are podcasts, but there aren’t really any video blogs. Because of this, I wanted to create a vlog that would be open access and fill these gaps in poetry education.
EJO: What was it like to start the vlog?
CRG: At first I was like, I’ll just talk at a camera and it will save me some of my breath while teaching in class; that’ll do it! But then it was like, especially as a representing white female, it feels really odd to be talking at people as a singular knowledge source about things that aren’t always about me. It kind of re-centered me. So I was like, oh, I’ll bring guests on and that way I’ll have other folks kind of contributing to the education in the classroom and it’ll benefit those authors and poets because they’ll have a very specific niche media promotion filled. That’s part of why it’s on YouTube actually.
EJO: Now you have grown it to have students involved. What is your process with working with them?
CRG: I think in terms of activism, usually, collaborative community organizing is more effective. And in terms of teaching, I really believe in students understanding that we’re doing it, not just hearing it. So this year having students join the team they’re doing independent study credits. I’ve been mentoring them very closely. They start by learning the nitty-gritty basics of the genres. They have a really big voice in the content, who we invite, how we edit these things, and how they’re distributed. They kind of tell me how students perceive things and ways we can better teach students through it.
The goal is in the future of the project is to have it be more like students are actually doing this, and I’m a faculty oversight. So I will hopefully go from being so far in the foreground to maybe a little bit more background. And that makes it more of a teaching project in terms of its actual production as well. I think that this work helps the higher education, social justice piece of the project come a little bit more into fruition.
EJO: What is it like to run the vlog?
CRG: It’s been the exact variation of completely mortifying, horrifying, terrifying, vulnerable, combined with like, oh my god I feel like I have a purpose in this poetry community a little more directly and that I can use these degrees I’ve gotten for something besides academia. So it’s been a really confusing mix.
In some ways, I think it was easier to run the project alone because then I could navigate these two opposite feelings all the time. And it was a lot of work. I’m very good at sitting home alone and doing work though. It was kind of fun. I could put a TV show on and start editing a video and chill out.
Adding students ups the ante of the ethics for me. It’s fun in a different way now. Now it’s like this is part of my teaching so it feels a little more meaningful. So now, less chilling with the TV show editing and more talking through and problem-solving.
EJO: What are your future plans with the vlog?
CRG: So my dream of the vlog is that it becomes a bind for students all the way to the point where students are doing the interviews and the different team members take turns doing them. That is dependent on so many different things though. One of them is right now I’m only an adjunct professor because I just finished my Ph.D., so I’m in a pretty precarious position. I can only risk so much with my teaching. In my dream scenario, I would be in a tenure track position where I’m given adequate funding to support students so I can help them run this project on behalf of a department.
Emily Joy Oomen is a young award-winning poet, journalist, and visual artist who lives in the Pacific Northwest with her wonderful family. She has a B.A. in English with a minor in Visual and Media Arts from the University of Washington. Her poetry has been featured in the Athens International Video Poetry Festival, Rookie Mag, and many other publications. She currently writes solutions journalism as a Features Writer for The Borgen Project. When she’s not writing, she enjoys watching improv and gushing about Mindy Kaling. You can find her on social media @ejowrites and at her website emilyjoyoomen.com.