George Orwell warned us of thought control in his book “1984” published after World War II. Yet decades later we have plenty of examples of doublethink (such as the War on Drugs), and attempts by participants in social media to push thought control. Social media has become a place where shaming without proof is acceptable and punishing someone without evidence is expected. This worries me. You don’t have to have a great imagination to see where such a trend will lead.
Aside from the constant surveillance citizens are put under by governments, we now have to worry about Little Brother in the form of social media where peers are informants ready to report on any hint of what they have judged to be inappropriate behaviour, shaming people or insisting that everyone thinks the same. It is a form of oppression which is just as dangerous as that coming from traditional authority systems.
This oppression is affecting my view of what kind of art I’m interested in and what kind of poetry I want to create. These days I am drawn to abstract art, jazz improvisation, the poetic fragment, and visual poetry, which doesn’t attempt to convey semantics or sense from some kind of authoritative or conventional perspective.
I feel poetry has an important role in this era of thought control and on line peer pressure. I’m not talking about didactic scolding, I’m talking about the translation of the emotion or sense of frustration into poetry, about deconstruction, questioning things, examining them closely.
I made the mistake of watching television recently, including the commercials. One ad suggested that we take control of our destiny, a kind of oxymoronic double think that makes no sense at all, if you understand the meaning of the word destiny. Another ad exhorted us to dare greatly as if daring isn’t great enough on its own. We need to look closer at language and the mindless bafflegab we are being fed. We also need to avoid succumbing to peer pressure or acting as judges in situations where we can’t possibly have all the facts as they are presented in brief excerpts via social media. Such behaviour leads to mob mentality.
I am alienated and confused by what I am witnessing on line. I am upset and concerned about these attempts at peer pressure, judgement and shaming.
This is one reason I am compelled to work with history in my writing. Not that earlier times weren’t unjust, far from it, but it helps to see the bigger picture and to give myself some distance.
I’m currently editing a work entitled Saint Ursula’s Commonplace Book. Ursula lived in the fourth or fifth century, was beheaded along with eleven thousand virgins. She was made a saint sometime around the eleventh century along with other martyred virgins. I came up with the character of a homeless woman named Ursula who believes herself to be the saint and is haunted by nightmares and visions.
For my book Kiki (Chaudiere Books, 2014) I first heard about Kiki of Montparnasse in a CBC TV documentary in the 90s, then in the early aughts after writing about another historical figure, Eleanor of Aquitaine (Eleanor, above/ground press, 2007), I remembered being intrigued by Kiki, and so I decided to read up about her. This led to poems, research on Montparnasse between the Wars, watching surrealist films etc. I guess I have romanticized the era in my mind. I love the idea of unbridled sexuality and creativity that this time seemed to embody.
Because I may die at any time (and I came very close in 2009), there’s no time for fooling around. I have to say what I want to say now and I have to share it. I can’t hone it endlessly or sit in an attic polishing away at it. It’s not about perfection for me, it’s about a mutual sharing of inspiration that leads to something amazing in the long term, not necessarily created by me. Something influenced by those who have gone before me and influencing those who will come after. I’m looking to create something positive in a time which seems so negative to me.
My next project is just a glimmer right now, but so far it looks like it will be inspired by abstract art, particularly the colour field art of painters like Mark Rothko and Jack Bush. I’m fascinated by how blocks of colour can resonate. I’m thrilled with the juxtaposition, geometry, textures and arrangements of colours on large canvasses. I think the process of creating a poem for me is a similar experience to that of the artists’ process when they work with blank canvases. And I think I need to deal with abstractions right now.
During World War II, poets such as the Serbian poet, Vasko Popa wrote abstract poems as a way to handle and communicate the harsh realities of war. Right now I feel a need to make sense out of this strange draconian time we are going through in a way that steps back from it.