10 TRIES, 100 POEMS (TAKE 2) :: KELLY GRACE THOMAS :: FIELD NOTES :: POETRY IS THE NEW WATCHDOG

In this installment of 10 Tries, 100 Poems, young poets are invited into a dialogue about the impact of media on the world, on their minds, and in their lives — a conversation covering everything from Fox News to Instagram, clickbait to credibility. The poets are then asked to write a poem responding to said dialogue, on the premise that “when the media no longer is trustworthy to act as watchdog, art must step in.” Poet and educator Kelly Grace Thomas provides glimpses into the conversation, and excerpts of the poems that were born of it. [2018 series editor: Adrian Silbernagel]

The impact of media is immeasurable: it influences everything from expression to environment. It shapes our perception of the world we live in and fight for. So when Alex Juhasz approached Get Lit, our poetry non-profit, about co-teaching a poetry workshop on fake news, I was intrigued.

The aim of Get Lit — Words Ignite is to develop the voice of youth poets. We use poetry to increase literacy, empower youth, and inspire communities. Our curriculum is taught at our drop-in classes in over 100 schools across the nation, and is still growing. Get Lit also has the most watched poets on the Internet.

The Get Lit — Words Ignite model uses classic poetry to inspire spoken word responses. At Get Lit, we say, “A classic isn’t a classic because it is old, a classic is a classic because it is great.” In this model, each youth poet claims a classic poem that speaks to them. They memorize and perform the classic poem and then write a response poem. They perform both the classic and response as a piece of cohesive art, a dialogue that starts in the past and proceeds into the future. It is a beautiful thing to watch talented youth poets be inspired by other poets to share their stories, to observe the process of great art in conversation with one another. As Get Lit’s Manager of Education and Pedagogy, and a poet myself, I am always looking for creative and critical ways to write about the world around us.


Excerpt From “Call the Man of the Year a Liar” By Mika Judge
There are a lot of small things about him, but his lies are enormous. like his crowds. like
his supporters. like his heart. like the coal mine he’s reopening right under our feet —
America, how does black lung feel?
How does it feel being cheated by a cheesy smile balanced on an emergency red tie?
How did a small loan of a million dollars become the ruining of billions of lives?
How does it feel to be led by the lovechild of racist comments on Facebook and
unimaginable power?
America, get your heads out of your echo chambers.
There is more to politics than what you want to believe. There is more to know than what
they show you.
Do not mistake easily obtainable for true. Do not mistake your agreement for divine
Approval.
Where there is doubt, there is still hope.
Period.
Excerpt from “These Bitter Lies”
By Olympia Miccio:
(#14: Skepticism is a Weapon)
How broken has my free thought become.
Sometimes my false perceptions (gifted from the internet)
Are more twisted than sprained ankles.
Leg casts and broadcasts.
My head needs crutches, sometimes.
I double and triple check myself,
But the Truth is hard to uncover.
The Truth is as easily distorted as emptied lemons,
Looking crushed from dirty fingers.
Congressmen
Curl up like lying tongues.
Their lips pucker when they are met with facts
That don’t offer wiggle room.
So they turn to twitter-
Use the virtual world as a buffer.
The day 45 was elected,
I collected suicide hotlines in my palms.
Today,
They tear through my hands like thumbtacks.
We yell of unrest
Of fake news,
Of untruth
Yet they just put a pin in it.
Thumbtack my freethought.
My mom warns me, to be careful of what I put on the internet,
Because it stays there forever.

Having our Get Lit Players (youth poets part of a professional touring troupe) write about the media and fake news as one iteration of Alex Juhasz’s Fake News Poetry Workshops seemed like the ultimate response. The process was simple. Alex Juhasz took 45 minutes to have an honest dialogue about what fake news was and how it has affected our youth. She shared photos and statements she had collected called #100hardtruths and the poets shared how those statements impacted them. The conversation flowed from Fox News to Instagram. It swung from clickbait to credibility.

One of our poets shared a statement that will always stick with me. “It’s possible,” she said, “that we will grow up never truly knowing what’s real.” After that a silence swept over the room. The weight of not only the Internet, but our connection and dependency on it was palpable. Luckily, these poets know how to think for themselves, how to write and feel with critical and constructive eyes.

After the open dialogue, I started the poetry workshop. I read aloud six powerful statements from the Online Media Literacy Primer, #100hardtruths-#fakenews, that Alex made during the first 100 days of the Trump administration. We sat in silence as I read one statement and let it land.

· Choose to be digitally productive rather than reactive

· Black Lives Matter

· Interrupt the narrative

· The real Internet is fake

· Address fears about beauty, disability and aging

Once the poets heard a statement that they wanted to respond to they started writing. Furiously. I watched as pens and pencils scratched across paper after only a few words left my lips. They had a lot to respond to, so much to say. Where else were these conversations happening? The poets wrote for ten minutes and shared their responses.

The sharing of these poems was a powerful experience. The poets took on a movement with their voice, they took on lies with their words. The poets had such fresh and fueled things to say (see excerpts above and below). We often talk about the impact of fake news but poetry helps us explore the humanity of it. It asks: why we are doing what we are doing? Why are we lying to each other?


The poets read their responses in a circle and were filmed by a camera crew from Occidental College, Aneesah Ettress (Mellon Post baccalaureate Fellow of Undergraduate Research) and Xiomara Rodriguez (Digital Scholarship Editor.) They set up a Samsung Gear 360 to shoot the video and then an HTC Vive for participants to view during the culminating event at Occidental College on March 5, 2018. After the poets read they were asked who was interested in having their poem included as an installment in the Fake News Poetry Workshop. Alex also asked who was interested performing at Occidental. Six poets volunteered. Here are some more excerpts from these Fake News Poems:

Excerpt from “On Suicide Notes in Place of Passports”
by Arlene Campa
(#20: Stress Related to Immigration Status is One Result)
I can’t bear anymore eulogies
My bedtime stories are news reports
Sometimes I can’t tell real from fake
Alternative facts scream ICE raids in the wrong places
Tombstones cluttered my closet
Each inscription with the date scraped out
From when I wanted to die at 7, 10, 13, 15
Home is only 3 letters away from homily
And I will worship every god to keep this family whole
Turn our bodies into sanctuary
Welcome to this holy house
I keep waiting for a resurrection
But the dead don’t dance on the devil’s back.
Excerpt from “Battle for the Truth”
Mya Rigoli
(#29: Interrupt the Narrative)
interrupt the narrative
like every are we there yet
from the backseat of mama’s car
when google maps didn’t call my mouth a home
know my address like every
where am i?
can be answered in
a number
a value
the amount of followers on an instagram page
i want to click refresh on our history
and know that I would be proud
of every trip that i’ve made
i want to know the footprints i follow
once belonged to a beating heart
that the truth bleeds the same color
as a bit tongue and stained teeth
the riot cannot be seen when the battleground
has been closed to the public
when our history will soon be closed to the public
Excerpt from “the go fund mes never end”
By Alex Rafaelov
(#22: Experimental Escape Routes Needed)
I talk about my traumas on my finsta account hope to turn these memories into stories
We all sit around the pit fire that is the internet and exchange ghost stories of our past
Hope to turn these please for help into prayers and then into miracles
I’ve been linking too many go fundmes to my instagram account
All the money in the world and there still isn’t enough to pay the funeral costs
I’ve been reposting pictures of missing children who wandered off to the moon and never
came back
I hope they
Come back
And if not
I hope they land somewhere amongst the stars
We drink and drink and drink like coke and rum came from the fountain of youth
We don’t feel real
When the world is dancing beneath your feet and your head is too fucked up to to notice
the difference between dirt and the sky anything feels real
People say they get fucked up to escape reality but we lost reality’s definition long ago
We know nothing about it
Everything seems like reality now even when it isn’t
Even when I’m disassociated from life
It doesn’t feel like the world isn’t there it feels like I’m not there like
Like I’m the one who’s not real
It’s normal for me to not feel real
That place in limbo is almost like my second home
I was scrolling through my twitter feed the other day and every other post is
A political hoax or a missing kid
Sometimes I want to believe the government is some giant allusion made to scare us like
the boogie man
Sometimes I wanna believe all those kids ran away and came back home after a day or
too
But go fund mes never end
And we just keep adding up the funeral costs
We share our grief and condolences in the comments section and virtually tell the world
things will get better
But at the end of the day
I go home to empty bottles of wine and empty some more just to pass the time
I go home and wonder if I’m really alive
I’m lying in my bed wondering if maybe I just
Don’t Look
By Kiy Gentle
(#62: Don’t Look)
Shhhhh
can you hear that
I think you’ve made them angry
Shhhhh
Don’t look , they’re watching us
Wanting us to keep believing
I heard a survivor type once that skepticism is just a side effect of reality
But then again
I haven’t heard from her lately
Let’s just keep going
Stopping is a place of growth
And when they feel they are getting small
They teach us new ways to survive

The performance at Occidental was one of the coolest events I have ever witnessed due to the integration of art, poetry, and technology. Occidental College had a space where the poets read in a room of 7–10 large screens displayed floor to ceiling with lines of their poetry scrolling across the walls. There was also a private viewing room with 360 technology where guests could sit in a virtual circle and hear the poets read their pieces from the workshop. The night ended with the poets’ performance.

When the media no longer is trustworthy to act as watchdog, art must step in. Poets have always been the truth-sayers and deep-feelers. They hold a mirror up to the world and ask them to think about what they see. Thank you to Alex Juhasz and her Fake News Poetry Workshop for giving us the the space to explore our truth. — Kelly Grace Thomas



Kelly Grace Thomas is the Manager of Education and Pedagogy for Get Lit-Words Ignite. She is also the co-author of Words Ignite: Explore, Write and Perform, Classic and Spoken Word Poetry (Literary Riot). She is also the winner of the 2017 Neil Postman Award for Metaphor from Rattle, a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee and a Best of the Next nominee. BOAT/BURNED, her first full-length collection, is forthcoming from YesYes Books. Kelly’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in: DIAGRAM, Tinderbox, Nashville Review, Sixth Finch, Muzzle, PANK and more. Kelly was a 2016 Fellow for the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop. She is the founder of FeministWrites, a creative collective that connects and champions feminist voices. She is currently a reader for Tinderbox Poetry Journal. She lives in Los Angeles. For more please visit www.kellygracethomas.com