My first real job was as a journalist; I reported during the day, copy-edited at night. I worked for three of the largest newspapers in the nation. I couldn’t wait to get out.
My press pass said EDITORIAL/NEWS REPORTER but what I really was or what I really wanted to be was a recorder, recording details and sensations about the people and their lives, not just the events that contained them, whatever arrived the next morning in 16 inches of type.
I always considered journalism the antithesis of poetry; my work was directly at odds with my passion. Poetry does a better job of telling the truth than the news because the news only reports facts. The news can only ever repeat or reiterate; it can’t respond; it can’t transform. The news, once it happens, remains static. Whereas poetry’s greatest power is that it’s inherently elastic, so full of kinetic emotion and sensation and always on the verge of collapse or conversion, slipping between its writer and its audience, a liminality and vulnerability that doesn’t exist anywhere in the newspaper, online or on the page. News reports are ephemeral; they are now until they aren’t, then they go away, replaced by another report. That’s because journalism only ever presents reality as a series of known facts, while poetry speaks from an emotional truth, something closer to the reality of a situation or a scene, something which can be used in service of the truth to confront injustice, maybe, or maybe just to make a point.
The point is to feel more human, but also to feel more like yourself; to reveal more about yourself to yourself.
Journalists might say what happened, where, when, why; poets grapple with the how, what it was like. How it felt. How it would never feel again. It’s this level of interiority and uncertainty that is lacking in news reports and so prevalent in all humanity. But there’s a reason why almost everyone reads the news—or at least watches it scroll by their fingers—and many of us don’t read poetry. That grappling is difficult. For the writer, for the reader. But when we confront emotional truth—and our own questions—we close the distance between us and everyone else. We understand, or progress toward a better understanding of what happened. What really happens. Every day, inside our minds and our bodies. Outside of us.
But what if we reversed the relationship or upended the binary? News vs. poetry. Poetry vs. news. The two don’t have to be at odds; they can shape one another. Poetry often reacts to public events, and journalism can take on complicated ideas with methods often applied to creative writing. But what if news became poetry, just by the fact of its lineation on a page? What happens when the world writes itself?
I collected the twenty-most popular stories on MSNBC on Wednesday, June 22, at 12:46pm, and organized them, each report as its own stanza. When listed in ascending order, current events seem to create their own narrative: the threat of an impending storm, so often symbolic as a literary instigator, is what propels us toward present action, or its transitional state: limbo. We “meet” the first transgender athlete without actually meeting them, a surprise that is eventually revealed in the sinister threat of a transgender terror plot. The safety measures of the Southwest get curtailed a stanza later by the largest health care fraud bust in America’s history. Slavery, the $20 bill, and currency in general is immediately evoked in consecutive lines bridging Harriet Tubman and Bill’s wife, Hillary Clinton, but also the suggestion of corruption; the line break seeming to state that all capital is inherently corrupt and self-commodifying. Trump’s vacuous popularity and the Internet hype machine at large are explained by the following report, “Most people who share links don’t click on them.” Racial tension in Boston mirrors racial injustice in Baltimore. The “Gray verdict” becomes a double entendre when followed by the murkiness of “North Korea … South Korea says.” What’s clear? What’s unclear? The line also reads, “fires 2 more ballistic missiles” which bleeds into “Obama fires back at critics of Iran nuclear deal.” Each report feeds into the next and the one that came before in subtle yet explosive fashion. “New details emerge” about a murderer at the same time that “fragments” of a “missing” plane are found and footage “surfaces” … the emphasis on the specific words used here imply a relationship that is almost cosmic; it’s form mirroring content; poetry disguised as journalism, or its opposite. And finally, the specter of gun violence comes to a head as the Democrats hold a sit-in to force a vote on gun control. Everyone is either haunted, or haunting, waiting for something to happen. Something worth understanding.
First Lady Michelle Obama joins Snapchat, after all.
One of these things1 is not
like the other
Two rounds of severe storms take aim at the Midwest
Immigrants in deportation limbo as Supreme Court ruling nears
Meet the first trans athlete to pose for ESPN’s body issue
Judge to NYPD: Pay Muslim officer who sued over beard length
In deadly heat, Southwest takes steps to keep visitors safe
Feds charge over 300 in nation’s largest health care fraud bust
Congressman loses bid to block Tubman from $20 bill
Seeking to regain ground, Trump calls Clinton corrupt and a liar
Most people who share links don’t click on them
Islamic State suspects reportedly held in Turkey over trans attack plot
Headmaster of prestigious Boston school steps down amid racial tension
Hope dims as Baltimore awaits Gray verdict
North Korea fires 2 more ballistic missiles, South Korea says
President Obama fires back at critics of Iran nuclear deal during speech at American University
Bill Cosby to be deposed in case involving Judy Huth, one of many women accusing him of sexual assault
New details emerge about man who attacked moviegoers before being shot by police
Plane fragment found last week confirmed to be piece from missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370
Footage surfaces of Orlando gunman in 2012 documentary
House Democrats hold sit-in to try to force gun-control vote
First Lady Michelle Obama joins Snapchat
1The twenty most popular stories on MSNBC, in ascending order, on Wednesday, June 22, at 12:46pm.