By and | 1 October 2020

Loaded term: propaganda. Hardly the mild descriptive tag of its origin, the word now invokes visions of cynical manipulation, grand conspiracies to turn entire populations against their own interests and against each other.

Sure, plenty of coordination between bad actors is necessary to create and operate echo chambers algorithmically crafted to bum-steer misinformation directly through [to] individuals or the rampant incitement that disinformation spawns. But so much of the pervasive stench from today’s propaganda stems from the banality of dumb profit as greed and cowardice combined to form a most useful idiocy. At every turn in today’s social-media-directed [dictated] news cycles we get to observe and understand propaganda’s machinations in real time.

Lucky us.

Indeed, so pervasive is today’s machine that it may be useful to conceptualise poetry itself as a type of anti-propaganda because although it exists outside morality, poetry’s emotional hooks capture and funnel attention more towards cohesion than division. The urge to explore and craft language in this way is in itself progressive. Poetry can be seen as the rendering and promulgation of an interpreted shape of truth, where propaganda is a backwards-firing truth engine, one that smears us all with a rotten illusion of reality through a dreadful merging of information, manipulation and biases.

This distinction—of poetry manifesting as an antithesis to propaganda—can lead to the hopeful harnessing of poesis as a counteraction agent: a salve, if not a panacea. Works such as Sarah Temporal’s ‘[91 days]’ act as a clever neutralisation of logo-spin where the reworking of form is crucial. Meanwhile, Victor Billot’s ‘How good is this?’ helps to counteract the taste of abandonment during a recent national crisis where Australians were left bereft of leadership, truth, and info-transparency. Failure of leadership also informs Pascale Burton’s piece ‘There’s a Boom Up There (After Scott Morrison)’, which turns language manipulation into an absurdist toy, exposing the indifference of entrenched power. And then there’s the moment in Alisha Yi’s ‘Film #6: Eve in Vietnam, July 8, 1968’ where the haunting turn of phrase ‘No bodies mark our stay,’ stirs emotions well outside any propagandist’s range.

This issue is filled with such moments. The works here by their mere existence seek out propaganda, expose it, neutralise it, counter it. If you need reassurance that we are not beholden to our basest instincts, these poems are a good place to start.

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