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The Boris Disorder According to the NHS

Overview: The Boris Disorder is characterised by a pattern of excessive attention-seeking emotions, behaviours and statements, usually beginning in early adulthood, including excessive need for power within a politically incompetent system or society.

Symptoms: The Boris Disorder affects politicians in different ways and can cause a wide variety of symptoms. They range from incendiary or outrageous public statements to symptomatic deceit and corruption.

When to see a doctor: It’s important to seek help from your GP if you think you may have the disorder. The sooner you see a doctor, the sooner you can be on the way to recovery.

Causes: Sometimes there is a trigger for Boris Disorder. Undeserved privileges, being surrounded by people who never disagree with you and who laugh at your badly placed jokes, being constantly reminded of your uniqueness when you actually are an average JoBloggs might cause the first onset.

Diagnosis: There isn’t a set of tests which can lead to a clear diagnosis but the honest people around you know you’ve got it. Listen to them.

Treatment: Life circumstances such as poverty, homelessness, full-time employment in the mining sector, care work will help the sufferer get better. Self-help groups are often recommended as well as specialist silent treatments. Prescribed ‘itching powders’ are known to improve the success rate.

Living with Boris Disorder: Many politicians with Boris Disorder benefit by making lifestyle changes, such as giving their wealth to the poor, wearing clothes from charity shops, regular fasting, joining and supporting worthwhile causes, volunteering to collect the rubbish and to unblock the toilets in council flats. Finally, a daily humility session. On a long-term basis.

Maria Stadnicka, 8th August 2018

The Trophic Chain and Other Animals

 

‘Man has continued to evolve by acts of disobedience […] daring to say no in the name of his conscience. His intellectual development was dependent on the capacity for being disobedient to authorities who tried to muzzle new thoughts and to the authority of long-established opinions which declared a change to be nonsense.’

– Erich Fromm, On Disobedience

 

The recent Twixter development with reference to the Eyewear Publishing’s abrupt fall from grace looks like a time-bomb waiting to go off for a few years now. (If you use social media, you can easily find out what I am talking about, so I am not going to revive it, for ethical reasons. It has already taken too much of my headspace, plus it is not the focus of what I am about to say.) Regardless of what is going to happen next, I cannot but bring up a wider issue – the present symptomatic state of the literary space, and, particularly, the publishing industry.

At a time when competition is supposed to promote quality and integrity, a well-oiled trophic chain keeps on growing; and the institutions building this up seem unable to ‘snap out of it’ as the pressure to ‘make it, and make it big’ has become a scope in itself. (I use the concept ‘institution’ in the sociological sense.)

The general turmoil is now backfiring on writers trapped between their need to get work published and the pressure to accept arrogance, humiliation and to conform, ad literam, to the publisher’s demand (in some cases). But if the book sells, all is forgotten and forgiven. Before you know it, it slowly becomes common practice. Then it is widely spread across, used as a functional business model and, finally, adopted as a cultural value. What for? Just to prove that neoliberalism works well.

There are many brilliant independent publishers too, with a natural propensity towards quality and excellence. Some are young, some are struggling to survive, and others are actually doing really well. I have admiration for all of them and I support their journey. The beauty in their work (and, ultimately, their success) comes from their ability to reject the established cultural food chain. But to break a system, one needs to create another. And why shouldn’t this system be about more agents which say no, which disobey, which continue to change?

As a writer, I can only keep my side of the bargain through writing and saying no in my own way.

I say no to submission windows, for instance. As I don’t write between nine and four with a lunch break and a bit of time for elevenses, I prefer publishers with ‘open windows’. I prefer to work with people rather than with systems. One has to recognise there is some scope in accepting submissions only at certain times. One must consider the publisher’s high volume of manuscripts, the financial constraints, staff availability and so on. However, there are two further considerations to make here:

a). some publishers recognise their struggle to manage two hundred submissions over a period of four months, whilst others, with less staff, manage over four hundred in two months. Is it a matter of grit, determination, passion, or just management?

and

b). secondly, rather more important to me, the problem of equality and diversity. The idea of preferential treatment to subscribers and their own protégées. And you can also jump the queue if you are Carolan Fluffy. What happens then with the young, the very young or the struggling writers unable to afford subscriptions, or talented writers at the very beginning of their career? They need to join the queue and wait longer to have their manuscript read. (And, in some cases, it takes months, if not years to get a response.) One would have thought that in such a competitive market things could have been more efficient, and more honest.

I say no to submission fees. This is simply based on arithmetic. Browsing through the writing competitions promoted via official channels, and adding up, the monthly sum for submissions is higher than some writers’ food bill. A high percentage of great writing and talent gets overlooked. And if this is not the publishers’ loss, it is certainly our cultural loss.

In a society where cultural losses are neglected, the freedom of expression has no meaning and obedience is identified as a virtue.

Maria Stadnicka, 21st July 2018

Tears in the Fence Festival – Defining Courage

Until recently, we had convinced ourselves that there was nothing in the future but more of the same’. This has been, for a long time, our definition of ‘courage’ and ‘risk-taking’. But the notion of ‘inevitable future’ described by T. Snyder is now more nuanced; if we summarise the past twelve months of socio-economic and political headlines. And to add to this, the cultural space has not taken a step sideways either. I am just considering the #MeToo movement, the mediatic tsunami which followed, plus the implications it had on the Nobel Prize for Literature. There are so many other examples I could think of. And they all lead to an evident sense of empowerment and courage coming from the overlooked, the marginalised socio-cultural voices.

But when I think of courage in culture, at a practical level, I go back nearly a year ago. In 2017, I was invited to read at Tears in the Fence Festival, Stourpaine, Dorset. The Festival focused then on the theme ‘Politics of Engagement’ at a moment when the idea of Brexit started to become a slow torturous reality. Being part of the Festival, listening, reading, connecting with brilliant voices and writers, left me impressed to tears; for I had discovered a powerful and intelligent event, edgy and European, with great openness and with the potential to change our cultural trajectory. It felt avant-garde. Georges Braque would have liked it and so would Beckett.

This year, I will be privileged to be joining Tears in the Fence Festival, between 14th-16th September, and it will be, no doubt, another inspirational experience, with even more exciting poetry readings, books, talks and discussions, responding to the theme ‘Hidden Connections’.

In a recent conversation with David Caddy, the Festival director, I wanted to understand what the difference between the festival and other literary events across the country was.

David Caddy: Firstly, through the range of poetic approaches on display and the international flavour with poets from different cultures and languages. There will some language centred poets, some prose poets, New York School, Australian, South African and a number of European voices.

MS: And this would be…?

DC: The Festival has a long prehistory going back to 1995. From 1995 to 2001 we had an international festival which eventually ran for five days. From 2003-2005 we had three weekend festivals, in London. We resurrected the festival on a smaller scale in 2014. This is thus the 14th edition.

MS: How is the festival funded? Through self-funding? And when I say this I have in mind the degree of autonomy and independence which come with the freedom to choose a focus, as well as your participants, rather than respond to popular literary demand.

DC: Yes, the festival is entirely self-funded. We rely upon tickets sales and donations to cover the costs. This gives us a high degree of independence in terms of whom we can invite to participate. We are not subject to any prescribed official list of funded poets. We can take more risks and have more alternative or experimental poets, whether they are spiritual, political or language centred. Poets that wish to read know that they will be able to take more risks and be themselves as there will be a well-read audience. It’s also a coming together and celebration.

MS: Taking risks is a complex concept within the literary space. Each literary festival likes to take risks, but it needs to sell tickets too and sometimes the market is dictated by over-promoted writers, with big publishers and literary agencies behind.

DC: Exactly true. There needs to be a space for the less marketed and more independent poetry voices. We give space to the outsider voices and poets; our earlier festivals had themes such ‘Difference and the Other’, ‘Visionaries and Outsiders’ and ‘Commitment’ to illustrate the point that dissident voices need to be heard.

MS: Your risk-taking does not shy away from experimental nor from critical analysis. You have chosen ‘Hidden Connections’ as this year’s theme. At a time of socio-economic and political turmoil, coming from North America, the Middle East and the EU, how does the Festival intend to respond having chosen this topic?

DC: Such themes generate good discussion and conversation. Poems will generate sparks and illuminate less well considered areas within these wider issues and perhaps debate, as the audience grapples with new implications and contexts. By bringing a range of strong and independent voices together there will be poems and sub-themes emerging, that shed light on darkened areas. Poets respond to one another’s poems and impulses. They will talk and think anew as a result of new insights. This is a complex and unpredictable phenomena, also very exciting and stimulating. New friendships are made, and books bought.

MS: And..as a preview, what events should the readers and the audience look forward to?

DC: There are a number of special events. Lou Rowan, the poet, novelist and editor from Seattle, will be reading. He is noted for his great clarity and humour. To hear him will be a treat. Elisabeth Bletsoe is a spell binding performer who recently hasn’t performed much. She will be a joy to hear. Martin Stannard has returned from China after a decade and his witty poetry will be as hard-hitting as ever. Perhaps with Chinese translations. Louise Buchler’s feminist poetry from a South African perspective will be different. Carrie Etter, an accomplished American poet and prose poet, has another distinct voice. Laurie Duggan is giving his last UK reading before returning to Australia. He is a poet with a big heart and internationalist perspective. There will also be a celebration of late Lee Harwood, whose multi perspective poetic approach offers a way to uncover hidden connections.

Tears in the Fence Festival will take place 14th-16th September, Stourpaine Village Hall, Dorset.

Further updates and information about tickets, events, accommodation, books can be accessed at http://tearsinthefence.com/festival or here.

Maria Stadnicka, July 2018

Out next month

The Unmoving is a dark and delicious exploration of post war landscape.

 Maria Stadnicka’s beautifully crafted lines cut like a knife,

her poems come to the page like water from a deep well, only the well has been poisoned. Masterfully succinct and shrouded in Stadnicka’s trademark sense of mystery,

The Unmoving is as vivid a poetry chapbook as you’re ever likely to read.’ (Broken Sleep Books, 2018)

Soyuz. Journal Page

Ward 7H. The spring jumped on me. Donald broke a leg in the playground. The nurse ‘nitialled his file and admitted him last week. We spen’ the evenins playin’ cards. After dinner, I give ‘im chemistry equations and leave ‘im to it. But let’s continue the session.

I’m telling ya, doctor, I’m defined by objects lost in a train carriage. I am sayin’ this only to you, not to ‘hem, but I know they can read my thoughts anyway. I just know it. A burst of laughter chokes me. I zip it. My arm is num’, my smile too. Donald is watching. He breeves down my neck and I know he is smokin’ behind the curtains. The ward is full of ash. I can hear his lung. Aren’t you tired, mate? ‘Cause I am. The night guard watches. ‘come play wif me’ over a cuppa. Overall quiet.

I’m defined, as I said, by lost fings. I lost a revolver, some stamps, an umbrella. Some childhood pho’os and my dog, Derek. A plastic ruler, my dad’s jacket, my eyeglasses. A few other fings. It could be thirty or so bits of ‘istory. Stop starin’, doc’, you make me itch all over.

I’ve only known Don for a few days but I can tell he is a good egg. He ain’ talkin’ much now as he used to in 2017. Kindda lost his shine a bit, his hairs, but he’s watchin’ over me like a God. I’ve started prayin’ to him now and he’s chuffed. He likes me. This morning he came by my bed and gave me a present. A nuclear boomerang. Hallelujah!

Published in ‘International Times’, available here.

©Maria Stadnicka, 2018