More than ever this week, my brain has become worn out by being on Facebook and Twitter. It’s brought home to me the value of “owning” a small space on the internet – ie a blog – where I have the luxury of more than 140 characters to write down some of my thoughts about life, the universe and everything, and the ability to gently oversee the thread of comments which follow these thoughts.
Another thing I’ve been reminded of this week is that ANY piece of creative work – writing, image, hashtag – will be interpreted in multiple ways. Just as, in many a literature class or theatre or art gallery, I’ve talked and argued and joked with others about what an artwork means, so people on social media networks, television and radio, have discussed and disagreed about what #jesuischarlie means.
As I wrote last time, to me it’s the “je suis” part of the hashtag which is most important. Since being able to openly say who I am is important to me. I’ve realised from my observations of social media threads (rather than from my own participation in them) that it’s almost impossible to have a discussion on social media, it easily becomes exhausting and pointless – or maybe that’s just how I feel reading in from the side-lines. It might start well – reasoned, calm – but then someone will join the thread minutes, hours, days later, sometimes without reading what’s been said before – rather like a person bursting into a room and trying to join in an argument already in full flight – and it’s easy to lose interest, patience, hope as misunderstandings, misinterpretations, different points of view grow to a louder and more exhausting melange.
Make art, poems, cartoons
Far better to make a piece of art, a cartoon, a poem, an image, in whatever artform you choose, to express something of how you feel about the situation. Like Lucille Clerc who tweeted this widely shared image shortly after the Paris shootings took place.
There were many more such images shared on social media throughout the day and the days following. Cartoonists have also made known their feelings by investing them in their work. The journalist and cartoonist, Joe Sacco, for example has expressed his thoughts about the limits of satire. I haven’t, yet, read a poem about the Paris shootings and issues surrounding them. Perhaps it’s just too soon.
Engaging with a piece of political artwork resonates more deeply with me than reading a Facebook thread. Michael Rosen’s poem ‘Don’t Mention the Children,’ for example, written following news that Israeli radio had banned an advert naming children who had been killed in Gaza, has stayed with me longer than if I’d read Michael’s arguments against this action on social media.
But it is a fine balance, isn’t it? Subtlety isn’t always easy to achieve. I say this as someone who has written, and continues to try to write, political poems. I know that some of these have been more successful than others. This week I was grateful to poet, reviewer and lecturer, Maria Taylor, who wrote this post about my poem ‘Stephen Lawrence isn’t on the National Curriculum’ and shared some of her thoughts about what makes an effective political poem.
I gave a reading this week in Bradford-on-Avon at a wonderful reading series called Words and Ears which I would recommend you attend if you are ever in the area (organiser Dawn Gorman is on Twitter if you want to get in touch). It struck me that being able to add context to a political poem helps, and, of course, that’s more easily done in a live reading. Linking to an event, as in the Michael Rosen poem, helps provide context as well.
It’s been a sad week. And, as Peter Raynard pointed out in his comments to my previous post, it’s not only Paris which has witnessed violence even though Western media has concentrated its focus there. There’s a lot to write poems about.