This landscape leaves some wondering to what extent this is an exercise in poetry and to what extent an exercise in producing visually engaging, relatable content for as wide an audience as possible: essentially a kind of digital branding that uses the sort of phrases you might find on fridge magnets or T-shirts. Some insist that Instapoetry is not poetry at all. “It is not art, it is a good to be sold,” Soraya Roberts writes in the Baffler. “These are not artists.” Even some of the Instapoets themselves have doubts. “I would never consider these poems,” Macias bluntly told a reporter in 2014. “I am not a poet.”
Of course, questions of what does and does not count as a real poem inevitably drags us down the thorny path of defining poetry itself. We know that wine is not poetry, even if Atticus tells us so, but proving that an Atticus post is not poetry is much trickier, even if many people will instinctively feel that it’s not. Many canonical poets have themselves struggled with settling on a definition: AE Housman admitted, “I could no more define poetry than a terrier could define a rat”, while Emily Dickinson wrote, “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry […] Is there any other way?”
As time went on, the earplugs-plus-headphones protection rig became standard writing gear. That was because the use of gas-powered leaf blowers in my Washington, D.C., neighborhood evolved from a few hours a week during the leafiest stretch of autumn to most days of the week, most weeks of the year, thanks to the advent of the “groomed” look that modern lawn crews are expected to achieve. One of my longest-running themes as a journalist has been how changes in technology force people to adapt their habits and livelihoods. I thought I was doing my part, with gear that let me attend to my work while others attended to theirs. There even turned out to be a bonus: As other parts of my body went into a predictable age-related descent, my hearing remained sharp.
Then I learned several things that changed my thinking both about leaf blowers and, up to a point, about politics.
Some collections have grown tenfold in the past 50 years. Most museums display only a fraction of the works they own, in large part because so many are prints and drawings that can only sparingly be shown because of light sensitivity.
“There is this inevitable march where you have to build more storage, more storage, more storage,” said Charles L. Venable, the director of the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields. “I don’t think it’s sustainable.”
His museum was so jammed with undisplayed artwork that it was about to spend about $14 million to double its storage space until he abruptly canceled the plan.
As a young girl, I read books like the Nancy Drew mysteries—the characters were always popping into tea rooms for lunch. To a modern reader, tea rooms conjured visions of crumpets and china, but when the books were published (the first in 1930), mentioning a tea room was meant to communicate to the reader that Nancy and her friends were independent women who could eat out without a man to escort them. While most women think nothing of dining out without a man now, tea rooms played a major role in bringing about this phenomenon.
It’s true that opinions change. If you ask able-bodied people how they would feel if they lost both their legs, many say they would rather be dead. If you ask people who lost both their legs, after a while they say it's just fine. In fact, many say losing their legs was a net gain since it enabled them to get a better perspective on what's really important or find out who their real friends are.
But I'm quite sure about this one. I never want to go to one of those places. I would rather be dead. I’m adamant.
“Instructions for a Funeral” is both sweeping and narrow, panoramic and fragmentary, possessed, as Means writes in “The Ice Committee,” by “a gloriously full understanding … fractured to shards.” What beauty there is in their jagged gleaming. What pleasure it gives us to gather them up, and to dream of a world made whole.
What initially seems an old-fashioned saga proves more interested in genre than in character. By the end, set in a near future involving a new digital device embedded in the user’s skin, we realise how slyly Serpell is testing our assumptions, before a cunning last-minute swerve forces us to question why we don’t consider science fiction a viable mode for the great African novel.
But because journalism has not been a lucrative business for some time, its ideals of truth-telling have become harder to uphold. The majority of digital ad revenue goes to Google, Facebook, and other companies that do not put it back into producing content; most newspapers no longer have the resources even for many of the routine stories they used to cover, much less for costly investigations. News organizations of all kinds are preoccupied with the new metrics of the digital economy and the old imperatives of revenue and profits. Survival depends on monetizing organizational assets, which in practice often means calling on editorial staff to work on business projects, ending the separation that was once a cardinal principle of journalistic ethics.
This tension between editorial autonomy and profit lies at the heart of Jill Abramson’s Merchants of Truth. Taking Halberstam’s book as her model, Abramson uses four news organizations—BuzzFeed, Vice, The New York Times, and The Washington Post—to tell the story of how journalism has evolved since around 2007, the point when newspapers began getting desperate and social media began taking off. The book has been dogged by charges of plagiarism and carelessness that have deflected attention from its argument. Several passages in the chapters on Vice all too closely follow other writers’ language; Abramson also got details wrong about a number of young journalists, making them appear inexperienced and unqualified. There is no excusing these failures, but not every damaged vessel should be sunk. For all its deficiencies, Merchants of Truth sheds considerable light on the news in this dark time; anyone who wants to understand what has been happening to journalism will learn a great deal from it.
The rains came last night around sunset,
after a day of grill-heat, a day of persistent
Code Orange air-quality warnings.
Here, there is always a rainbow.