When the News Kills the Muse


Sometimes it feels like you’re faced with an everyday dilemma of rock or hard place, devil or deep blue sea, Scylla or Charybdis. You know what I’m talking about: poetry or citizenship.

A steady diet of the news, it seems, is good for becoming an informed citizen (something all countries of the world need today, but especially the Disunited States), but not so good for creativity.

So what, then? Be selfishly artistic by ignoring newspapers, magazines, and all news media in general? Seek your Muse in the sand, ostrich-like?

Sounds appealing, I’ll admit! I say this only after reading in the New York Times that the Environmental Protection Agency (which no longer protects anything but corporate interests) is changing the math on air pollution effects on the populace with the goal of reducing projected number of total deaths.. Get it? Rules are relaxed, air pollution and pulmonary-related deaths go up, but reported deaths go down (and math is a wonderful thing).

Or how about the bacterial scourge that has struck citrus farmers in the southeastern U.S.? You have to feel for these farmers because it’s their livelihood, but the solution of treating crops destined for people with antibiotic spray (also approved by the E.P.A.) has raised all manner of alarms with health experts and scientists who are already watching killer “superbugs” rise in numbers due to a world awash in irresponsible application and distribution of antibiotics—to people, to animals, and now to plants.

Reading material like this is like a cold shower on the poetic mood. You feel more anger and despair than inspiration. Europe and Brazil have laws protecting their citizens from antibiotic spraying of crops, but I guess their governments are for the people vs. for the corporations. Make America Corporate Again (MACA). Teapot Dome and Tammany Hall are back, like the backwater infiltrating the late, great, supposedly drained swamp.

Which brings us back to the premise: Is a well-versed citizen abreast of the news and hopefully active in doing something about it antithetical to a creatively inspired artist? Not necessarily. Let’s not forget our old friend satire (it once lived in pens but is amenable to keyboards, too). Read some Voltaire. Sip some Mark Twain. These guys had little use for the powers-that-be and their timeless greed for power and money. They showed it through sharp, critical humor, relying on the pen in a world enamored of the sword.

One outlet I can recommend to activist artists is Rattle‘s Poet’s Respond feature. Every week, they set a Friday midnight (Pacific time) deadline for poems paired to something in the news.

Better yet? They’ll pay for it. Better yet than better yet? You’ll get a response by Sunday. That’s right: a 48-hour turnaround on poetry submissions. For writers, this is akin to partings of the Red Sea (only in this case, it’s the “Read Sea”).

What’s not to like? To arms, citizen poets! You can have your news cake and write it, too!