The Art of Journalism
It takes three years and I'll tell you why:
The first year you struggle to master the
language, the unfamiliar territory that
scalds your hands, the way your heart
throbs indecently when politics smacks
you in the face, the strangeness of it all;
you're swimming the second year, pumping
hard-earned contacts for all they're worth,
thinking creatively, letting the mind work
harder than emotions but still able to
catch the scent of a good story, the wicked
waft of jasmine through summer-drunk
nights, the uneasy rhythms of reporting
in the Middle East; the third year the body
becomes accustomed to the bumps and jolts
of the road to Ramallah, Gush Etzion, Jaffa.
You barely flinch when another round of secret
talks in corridors begins, when you know it's
just a show for you to cover with words
finely ground and digestible.
So you see nothing changes.
Previously published in The Bakery, an online journal.
From time to time in this column, we will present works by poets living in Israel who write in English. Joanna Chen’s poem about writing for other newspapers seems a fitting place to start.
Chen, who was born in the U.K. and lives in the Ella Valley, has reported for organizations such as Newsweek, Marie Claire and the BBC, and has published her poetry and poetry translations in various journals abroad and in Israel. She is a graduate of the Shaindy Rudoff Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Bar-Ilan University and is a founding member of 4Locals, a group of Anglo-Israeli writers of prose and verse.
In this poem, Chen posits reporting as an “art” – not only a literary art but also a kind of physical performance, perhaps martial arts or ballet. Learning the art happens in stages: First it hurts; the equivalents of the aspiring ballerina’s pained muscles and bloodied slippers are hands scalded by new territory, a throbbing heart and a face struck by politics. After a while, in the second year, it gets better. The training has paid off, the instincts have kicked in, and there is a kind of illusory ease, a floating high – “the wicked / waft of jasmine through summer-drunk /nights."
In the third year the reality of reporting becomes more palpable and present, less romantic: “… the body / becomes accustomed to the bumps and jolts.” A kind of tough, world-weary realism sets in, with a reference to 19th-century French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr’s epigram: “Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose” – “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”
And perhaps the subject of this poem is not only the stages of learning to become a reporter, but also the stages of mastering any new skill: pain, euphoria and routine.
*Chen writes that secret talks are merely "a show" for the benefit of journalists. If so, why bother? Is it also the poet’s job to make words “finely ground and digestible”?
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now