I’m a Russian speaker so for these last few weeks and months my attention has been trained on Russia and Ukraine. Like most Russia-watchers I take the official Russian media with a pinch of salt, I listen to friends, independently-minded Russian journalists and online news and I use social media to gauge the situation. Social media doesn’t replace ‘objective’ media sources, as Twitter surveys show most users only really follow like-minded feeds, and certainly Facebook is an accretion of friends and friends’ friends, but it works a little like an extension of one’s own subjectivity into a situation. I know my friends and I am fairly sure I would agree with them if I was there with them, I get to engage virtually and remotely. I don’t pretend to have independent views or verified views, but at least in the great Chinese Whispers game I know the person whispering in my ear.
I’ve also learnt through social media to be chary of information: Twitter is as effective a mechanism of misinformation as it is of information. Sometimes it is quite clear, the falsehood, the provocation, but sometimes (‘Please RT: X shoots at Y’) it looks much like the truth. It is frightening how impressive, convincing and constant the misinformation is, the fact of it is newsworthy in itself – and, like a corrupted source of water, it pours into the river of news and spreads its poison until its traces are found everywhere.
The British media, the assured and comfortable authorities of my childhood, consistently fail to report the situation in a way that accords with my understanding. The journalists themselves (I follow them on Twitter) have a good grasp of events, but the editing, the various biases of the papers, the responses of politicians, the imperatives of audience and market, online comments by trolls and the ignorant lead to a trickle of information that appears to me to be anti-news when at its worst.
It is very easy to be cynical: I know this situation a little so I am able to judge a little, and even my ‘little’ finds the media wanting. But what about the rest of the news, the latest from Syria, Europe, on the various domestic issues that affect us? Is it all as skewed?
I can only guess at the extent of the damage, but I am forced to keep reading: I am not able to make any sense of anything without the media, even though I suspect that I am being fed a watered- down gruel of partial understanding. That feeling of ignorance, dependence, vulnerability – it pains me. Do I know nothing?
This is why I’d like to make a plea for poetry: ‘Poetry is the liberty of language of everyone,’ wrote Paulo Leminski. It is this liberty, poetry’s freedom, which makes it irrepressible. As soon as you attempt to frame in a poem the compromises that life forces on us, the poem transforms them. It demands a truth of some kind and sometimes, like a living organism, it finds a truth and a beauty of its own, it sorts them from all the detritus that litters lives. This is the peculiar property of poetry: it needs liberty, it asks of its creator the liberty to pursue those grave-fellows, truth and beauty.
Sometimes it is not a truth you particularly wanted to tell, sometimes it is not a truth you even thought you knew, nor a beauty you thought you possessed. All great literature is irreducible, refusing to be co-opted into the service of an idea or ideal, but poetry takes this waywardness to an artform.
In MPT wayward poetry comes to you from all over the world. If you seek enlightenment on the matter of the globe from a publication you should read on: in poetry the state of our souls is laid bare. It needs saving (sos) but it won’t be taken partially, it won’t be watered down.