Nine CNN poems & commentary // Jamie Mortara
erasure is a really special artistic method but i think it requires more responsibility than some people might imagine.
back when i taught creative writing workshops to high schoolers, we would go to the used bookstore and buy some pulpy old paperbacks and get some sharpies and hand them to the kids. we'd just be like. go. destroy something into something beautiful. it was a really fun way to get new poets thinking about language and ways to subvert it.
but back to the responsibility thing:
90% of the time, i think the first reaction to blacking-out lines in a paperback novel (or anything that we don't truly recognize as "useful" or "relevant" or "real" art) is: i'm gonna turn this thing into something weird and funny. which is fine. i definitely used to be like that. but - you ever destroy "real" or "useful" or "relevant" art to make art? hardly anyone does. there's a layer of respect. what are we saying about the things we erase?
later in my life i've realized how much of a privilege being able to erase actually is. (see this incredible essay for more on that-- i highly recommend it.) people are erased every day in every conceivable way. how nice it must be for someone like me to sit down in safety and erase the news to make art and be seen for it.
on my break every workday, i sit down and read the night's top and recommended stories. when i look at a bunch of CNN headlines, a lot of time i'm seeing a mixture of horror and absurdity. there's so much death and suffering and injustice. and i gotta say, my first impulse, the first poem i see in the headlines, it's a funny poem. it's a bizarre, goofy coping mechanism. and every day (unless i see something truly hilarious that i simply cannot let go) i have to actively fight this first poem away. i often have to fight the second poem i see too - and maybe even the third poem. somewhere in there - if i really really look - there's gotta be something truly worth it.
regardless of the journalistic responsibility CNN abuses on its own, if i'm going to erase (effectively ignore) the harsh realities of our world, i have my own responsibility to turn the product into something surprising and beautiful. there's a wide range of how we understand "political" but i do believe in art as a political act. absolutely erasure is. it's compelled to be by its very nature.
is this "American?" i think the way CNN writes headlines is hella American. i think a lot of the ways i fuck with the headlines is kind of American. sometimes the poems are very American when they tackle specific American issues and politics. there's one about institutional racism, one about the impending erasure of speech and people after the 2016 election, a few about being queer in America. in general, i think a lot of my writing these days feels like i'm clawing at what it means to be "American."