These days, she would have been famous,
Screamed at us from every headline,
Her every move avidly tracked
By the paparazzi. Pose. Snap.
No star but hers would have guided
The wise men to her sponsored bed
In the best maternity ward
Advertising could buy. Smile. Snap.
The obligatory critics
Would emerge irrelevantly.
How dare they blaspheme, questioning
Her, the Theotokos? Wave. Snap.
His birth would be national news,
Possibly the culmination
Of a reality series
Raking in the dollars. Weep. Snap.
These days, he would have been famous
Before he was born, but no one
Would have remembered him after.
Or believed his gospel. Snap. Snap.
TSTmpj: I wish to get "behind the scenes" with this poem -- as its double edgedness, its playfulness and pathos, leaves me wondering -- and explore the belief system of you as its author. What do you wish to share about religious belief, and how our twenty-first century treats it?
Ian Chung: I'm a Christian, and my beliefs sometimes filter into the poetry I write, less on the basis of theological questions and more on posing various what-if scenarios. I once wrote a lengthy sequence of poems that were basically dramatic monologues for various Biblical characters, imagining what they might have said that wasn't necessarily 'on the record'. I think the 21st century has been an interesting one for religious belief so far, largely because of what I perceive as a growing intolerance among the various camps. You have the militant atheists lining up behind Richard Dawkins, who seem blissfully unaware that their fervour is fundamentally of the same variety as the so-called Christians at, say, Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas. It's simply directed at a different object, or rather, the absence of any object, although I suppose what's enshrined for Dawkins is scientific rationality. Yet if popular culture is any indication, we're still as fascinated as ever by the supernatural. Mind you, I'm not proposing that faith of any sort and tolerance are incompatible, and I'm sure the majority of people who profess some variety of religious belief aren't raring to condemn everyone else who doesn't share their beliefs. It's just that the fringe is always shouting louder than the centre these days, but the interconnectedness of the 21st century means we can't ignore the fringe. It isn't going to vanish because we think it should.
TSTmpj: What do you see as the relationship between today's mass media, optimism, and pessimism?
Ian Chung: I think it's got really easy to be a pessimist these days, and mainstream media actually encourages this. Every little rumour and unsubstantiated fact can now zip around the world in a matter of hours to whip up a frenzy. The news cycle practically demands that scaremongering become par for the course. At the same time, technology is also making it possible for communities to emerge that are based around more hopeful sentiments. I'm thinking of sites like I Wrote This For You(http://www.iwrotethisforyou.me), or even PostSecret (http://www.postsecret.com), just places that offer people some sense of connection, even if it all remains anonymous. I've recently started watching an American TV drama called Touch, and the basic premise of it is that we're all interconnected on this planet. One of the main characters says something really beautiful, 'Seven billion people on a tiny planet, suspended in the vastness of space. All alone. How we make sense of that is the great mystery of our frail existence. Maybe it's being alone in the universe that holds us all together, keeps us needing one another, in the smallest of ways, creating a quantum entanglement of you, of me, of us. And if that's really true, then we live in a world where anything is possible.' I think that about sums up how I feel.
TSTmpj: How do you view the nexus between poetry and our increasingly information rich, yet arguably information devalued, twenty-first century future?
Ian Chung: I had a university lecturer who suggested that the fundamental predicament of contemporary society is that we live in a world saturated with information, but precisely because all of that information is so easily accessible via the miracle of Google, none of it becomes knowledge for us. I think his point was that knowledge is something that abides in us, that becomes part of our being and shapes who we are, whereas information is something we retrieve and delete at will. To me, poetry is irreducible to mere information. Whatever sort of poetry it is, if it's good poetry, it will always produce as a whole an effect that's more than the sum of its individual words. At the same time, technology is also enabling us to produce new kinds of poetry, like what UbuWeb (http://www.ubuweb.com) showcases. I don't think it's something we should shy away from or reject wholesale. Granted, that kind of stuff won't be for everyone, but then again, isn't that the point of poetry, if we're thinking about it as knowledge? After all, I think it's quite telling that activists say 'information wants to be free', as opposed to 'knowledge wants to be free', which suggests to me that we might usefully contrast information/public/impersonal with knowledge/private/personal.
Ian Chung edits Eunoia Review and writes reviews for various publications, including Sabotage Reviews and The Cadaverine.