The following piece appears as part of the month-long series “Post-Truth Politics and the Creative Craft” on the blog, curated by guest editor Natalie Wee.
In her poem “Tell all the truth, but tell it slant” Emily Dickinson declared and cautioned, “The Truth must dazzle gradually / Or every man be blind—.” Today, in this so-called post-truth world, all kinds of truths flood out to wash away our independence of consciousness; they try to sway our decisions, so much and so shockingly.
The Year of the Rooster
crown on Trump
I wish I could turn away from alternative facts; yet, as a poet, I cannot help worrying about the danger of many people turning blind and being led nowhere, or somewhere where traps have been designed and crafted. Late Serbian-American playwright Steve Tesich lamented in The Nation that “we, as a free people, have freely decided that we want to live in some post-truth world.” How sad and poignant this is.
What is past, or passing, or to come?
—W.B. Yeats, “Sailing to Byzantium”
These days, I have been reading Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien and Gentle to Nagasaki by Joy Kogawa. I want to find out how each author reveals truth. We all know truth hurts and many of us simply choose to remain disillusioned. I remember not long ago, at a luncheon, my colleagues and I shared our experiences of propaganda back home 30 years ago. We felt our stories were satirical and painful, yet very similar, although we were all from different countries—one was from Romania, another from Poland, while I had immigrated from China.
Last year, I started working on a new manuscript. Increasingly, I am convinced that “Truth in Slant” is the title, although I’m not yet sure. Poems come to me with the bias of my personal history and unique vision. Yet, at their core, they often reflect universal truths. As English dramatist John Ciardi claims, “Poetry lies its way to the truth.” Perhaps these poems try to guide me in this unknown search where my birthplace has failed.
the tides wash everything away,
so much of what we live goes on inside.
—Dana Gioia, “Unsaid”
I was born in China in the early ’70s. While a lot of my childhood friends vividly remember their childhood, I find only a few fragmented memories remain. It seems like there was an eraser which rubbed away most of my past. One fragment that still lingers in my dreams is a dark scene with crowds full of strangers crying. I was forced to join in. Another fragment of memory includes waving red flags. I was trained to smile and applaud. When I grew up, I understood those two scenes were related to politics. Like all of us, I obediently did as I was told. There were no other options. As a naive young girl, I did not understand. But I always remember my parents whispering to me, “Someone is watching …” and my parents’ door being kept carefully closed, even when they discussed normal daily routines and activities.
In China, in the 1980s, many doors opened wide, but the door for the freedom of speech remained closed. I now live in Canada, where my poems let out a previously unknown voice. The cultural soil in a new world has nurtured in me a soul seeking liberation, one that seeks truth about the human spirit, truth about the socio-political environment, and truth about suffering and blindness. Like many other immigrants, I’ve been granted the right to vote and I am free to speak my mind. My poems, one after another, protest the wide range of post-truth. In one of my ghazals, “The Burning Ladder,” I have borrowed Gwendolyn MacEwen’s four lines from “Finally Left in the Landscape”:
I am a continent, a violated geography.
Yet still I journey to this naked country,
to seek a form which dances in the sand.
This is my chosen landscape.
I imagined I’d heard a prophet whisper and proclaim, “The end is not yet.”
Yes. “The end is not yet.” In this new political era, poets hold new social responsibilities to create more poetry that lies its way to the truth, that breaks through the darkness, that awakens.
Anna Yin is Mississauga’s Inaugural Poet Laureate and Ontario’s representative for the League of Canadian Poets. She has authored six books of poetry including Seven Nights with the Chinese Zodiac (Black Moss, 2015) and Inhaling the Silence (Mosaic Press, 2013). She has won several poetry awards such as the 2005 Ted Plantos Memorial Award, the 2010/2014 MARTY Literary Arts Awards, and others. Her poems have appeared on CBC Radio, New York Times, Arc Poetry, China Daily, and World Journal, and elsewhere. She teaches poetry through “Poetry Alive” workshops and the Poets in the Schools program. Find more on her website.