I’ve been making a conscious effort to put out more poems and short stories of increasing quality alongside my usual output of essays on politics and the media. Here are seven reasons why:
1. There are things you can say with art that you can’t say otherwise.
In the 1957 obscenity trial over the publication of the book Howl and Other Poems, English professor Mark Schorer was called to the stand and asked to explain the meaning of lines from Allen Ginsberg’s masterpiece.
“Sir, you can’t translate poetry into prose,” Schorer replied to the prosecution. “That’s why it’s poetry.”
There is a whole spectrum of possible attacks that we can make upon the oppression machine which go largely unutilized because most revolutionary-minded voices focus solely on facts, statistics and linear arguments in conventional prose to get their point across. They do this largely because the narrative matrix which holds the oppression machine in place predominantly uses prose for its propaganda; they push back against the enemy using the same weapons they see the enemy using. But the only reason the propagandists focus on prose is because they are completely artless servants of an agenda which has no spirit. Those fighting the machine are unencumbered by such limitations, and it’s foolish not to fully exploit the weakness of our enemy using that advantage.
Films and plays get panned as preachy and ham-fisted when they try to ram a specific message down the throats of their audience, and understandably so: if someone wants to say a specific thing, they can just say it, using words. They don’t need to be wasting people’s time with a sermon dressed up as art, especially when those people are hoping to have some ineffable nugget planted deep within some tender, hidden part of themselves in the way that only art can do.
With art you can get underneath the narrative matrix and speak to an unguarded part of an audience that hasn’t been armored up by layers of establishment narrative. Good art changes you, leaves you seeing the world a bit different in ways you can’t really articulate and for reasons you can’t explain. It opens people’s eyes to seeing things they couldn’t see before,