Furniture Without Memory

 

‘Interior MMXX’

ask about someone lost

in an escape gone wrong /

 

they will point at a place

of returning where things

 

talk themselves out of paper

so loudly it is impossible

 

to miss them even if you can

barely hear at all / peculiar how

 

eternal-now locks everything

indoors / before too long

 

hair grows in old toys

in furniture without memory

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Maria Stadnicka, 2020


Published in Stride Magazine, February 2020.

Somnia | Four Movements in F Minor

Billed as ‘Four Movements in F Minor’, Somnia is split into parts, ‘Allegro’, ‘Largo’, ‘Scherzo’ and ‘Finale’. The poems explore living through terrorism and fear, although these themes could be metaphorical or literal since the poems’ concerns focus on the effects on people living through these times. From ‘Allegro’, ‘Witness’ takes place a supermarket where ropes are on sale and shoppers talk about the pending hurricane,

Across the isle, a women looks out.

Trains deliver milk and morning newspapers;

at the end of his shift, a night watchman

lights a cigarette watching umbrellas running

to shelter. He has nowhere else. His children

sent him a blank telegram. Monochrome winds,

he thinks. Time to repair, to build.

The house he was born in no longer exists.

The punch of the last line carries a heft in contrast to the seemingly mundane routine of everyday lives. As others are hurrying home to shelter from adverse weather, the watchman has no one else to be concerned about him. In ‘Defence Mechanism’ from ‘Largo’, a questions throws a person,

I move

rubble pieces

across the chess table

unsure of what bishops,

rooks, pawns are for

in this game.

 

Would you kill a bird?

the angel asks.

A stone grows

in my mouth.

Between my flesh

and my heart,

                    rust.’

The poet is Romanian and lived through a political regime of a dictator, secret police and general paranoia where neighbour reported neighbour to save themselves form arrest. The question isn’t necessarily about a bird, but could you kill to save yourself? Can you do what it takes to survive?

Somnia is accomplished and timely, built on acute observation and drawn without judgement. The poems focus on the darker sides of humanity, the intrusion on every day lives by the political forces and show solidarity with those simply trying to protect family and survive.

© Emma Lee for The Journal, 29 June 2020


Somnia is available at Knives, Forks and SpoonsThe Poetry Book Society, WaterstonesAmazon and the following independent shops:

Banner Books (Ennistymon)
http://bannerbooks.ie

Book Corner (Saltburn-by-the-Sea)
bookcornershop.co.uk

The Bookshop (East Grinstead)
eastgrinsteadbookshop.co.uk

Brendon Books (Taunton)
brendonbooks.co.uk

Bridge Bookshop (Isle of Man)
bridge-bookshop.com

Browsers Bookshop (Porthmadog)
browsersbookshop.com

Gullivers Bookshop (Wimborne)
booksandvinyl.co.uk/gullivers

Gnash Comics
gnashcomics.co.uk

Gwisgo Bookworm (Aberearon)
gwisgobookworm.co.uk

Haslemere Bookshop (Haslemere)
haslemerebookshop.co.uk

Hungerford Bookshop (West Berkshire)
hungerfordbookshop.co.uk

Lindum Books (Lincoln)
facebook.com/lindumbooks

Mostly Books (Abingdon)
mostly-books.co.uk

Niche Comics and Bookshop (Cambridgeshire)
nichecomics.co.uk

Red Lion Books (Colchester)
redlionbooks.co.uk

Sam Read Bookseller (Grasmere)
samreadbooks.co.uk

Wivenhoe Bookshop (Essex)
wivenhoebooks.com

The Woodstock Bookshop
woodstockbookshop.co.uk

The ‘Useless’ Knowledge

 

Over two months ago

24th April 2020. Britain just passed the peak. Statistics broadcasted live at the press conference from Downing Street show an increase of over 5.500 cases of COVID-19 in 24 hours. It is lower than earlier in the week and, on top of this, more good news. The PM has made a full recovery from his encounter with the virus and is expected back in the swing of things.

Analysing newspapers’ front pages from 24th April 2020, I find headlines suggesting how a ‘grateful Britain’ (Daily Mirror) was slowly ‘taking back control’ (The Daily Telegraph), with the help of ‘mass testing to get Britain back on her feet’ (Daily Express).  At the same time, hospitals were struggling with significant PPE shortages, with ‘failings in the privately run virus test centres’ (The Guardian) and were ‘running out of dialysis kits’ (The Independent).

A snapshot of the ‘new normal’ (The Scotsman) in April, when things were bad and better at the same time. The sigh of relief from governmental departments was so loud, I could almost hear it from the Midlands in the lockdown quietness. Weather was good but the angst caused by the emergency stop on economy was wearing many out. As my professional and social life moved online, days and nights blended into each other, in a confusing melange of obsessive handwashing, sleeplessness, overeating and virus paranoia. I would have believed anything as long as it brought hope.

The worst had passed and social media took comfort in the heavily quoted words of Pastor Olawale Daniel who’d prophetically anticipate the arrival of ‘a time to go back to the drawing board and rewrite the next phase of our existence’. I admit I have not heard of Pastor Olawale before the pandemic and, looking at his website, I am still unable to trust the source, but for a while his quote went viral on social media. Maybe it spoke to a yearning for social change, in a moment when, having had lockdown time for reflection, we realised that we had been going in the wrong direction even before COVID-19.

© JStadnicki, 2020 / Stroud / UK

 

Over a month ago

25th May 2020. I’d already been introduced to the science behind the R number. The press conference in Downing Street is chaired by the PM himself who announces an increase in number of COVID-19 cases with only 1,600 in 24 hours. Britain’s records show that 36,900 people died infected with COVID-19, but I’m re-assured that things are ‘being controlled’.

Unfortunately, trust in the government’s concerted narrative ‘together against the virus’ suffers a big blow following the Cummings-gate media revelations. Newspapers’ front pages explain how the PM’s aide, ‘a cheat’ (Daily Mirror), offered ‘no apology, no explanation’ (The Guardian) for breaking the lockdown rules. While some newspapers report that ‘he acted responsibly, legally, and with integrity’ (The Daily Telegraph), others call for ‘aide’s sacking’ (The Scotsman) and the public opinion begins to split, reigniting the arguments which fuel the narrative ‘them and us’. My professional and social life is still booming online, weather is good, and then something else happens.

On 25th May 2020, George Floyd is killed in Minneapolis at 9.07pm. Britain was asleep at the time (3.07am) and about to wake up to an even newer version of the ‘new normal’; a social normality taken back to the ‘drawing board’ by the inequality and the injustice which stained our existence before the COVID-19 pandemic, and our existence before that, and even earlier than that, as back as history can remember.

 

Finally, the ‘useless’ knowledge

 When the statue of Edward Colston is toppled and removed (7th June 2020) by protesters supporting the ‘George Floyd Movement’ in Bristol, the British Home Secretary points the finger at destructive ‘mobsters’. The debate in the House of Commons heats up with MPs recognising the urgent need to improve our education system. We have not learned enough from the past, nor thought enough about a future free from racism, discrimination and injustice. At this point, I turn up the volume in my headphones.

It is a mistake.  A mistake, for I can hear Sam Terry (MP for Ilford South) saying how UK universities must be:

valued as part of the frontline response to the coronavirus pandemic, […] and recognised for the role they can play in their local economies in terms of retraining and reskilling their local workers during any recovery from the pandemic. (2020, p.1)

The hope for fresh beginning in the ‘new normal’ gets crushed.  Shouldn’t universities be recognised for all their roles, for their contribution to developing critical thinking and creativity, science as well as arts and humanities? If not, then what is the point in having higher education in the first place?

With philosophy, literature and art courses being scrapped in many British universities, public libraries closing, an art sector barely surviving under the new rules of social distancing, our children’s chance to reflect on and to learn from past mistakes is significantly undermined. Not that economic recovery is irrelevant, far from it; but looking at the underlying societal disease caused by ‘outcomes’, it seems that we are moving backwards not forward. We are almost as back as 1935 when Bertrand Russell observed a similar symptomatic failure in the education system:

Educational commissions point out that fifteen hundred words are all that most people employ in business correspondence, and therefore suggest that all others should be avoided in the school curriculum. (1935, p.34)

Russell criticised the education system tasked to avoid ‘useless’ knowledge, without practical applicability and immediacy, pointing out the insurmountable value of philosophy and literature, for instance, in creating better visions for the future.

Surely, I think, in almost a century we moved beyond the fifteen hundred words; surely our world-leading higher education system looks nothing like the system described by Russell in 1935:

Knowledge everywhere is coming to be regarded not as a good in itself, or a means of creating a broader and human outlook on life in general, but as merely an ingredient in technical skill. Educational establishments are not allowed to spend their money as they like, but must satisfy the State that they are serving a useful purpose by imparting skill and instilling loyalty. (In Praise of Idleness, 1935, p.38)

As he was writing In Praise of Idleness, Russell had the experience of the Great Depression which was followed by the Stock Market Crash of 1939. Despite his opposition to war, he witnessed how the society, skilled by the education system, was unable to resolve the crisis of the 20th century in any other way but war.

As for us, things are surely different.

© Maria Stadnicka, June 2020


Russell, B. (1935) In Praise of Idleness. London: George Allen & Unwind Ltd. An e-version can be accessed here.

Research Sample #4731

Photograph © Saul Leiter

 

Dreamed we were eating

pasta with mud and no-one

complained that earth lacked

seasoning. Yes, thank you,

since you ask, I will have

another portion of this.

At present it makes life

bearable.

 

© Maria Stadnicka, June 2020

Leviticus

Painting © Manuell Manastireanu, 2020

to Anne-Marie

 

We’d have peace if we meet

at a cemetery, she says,

 

but once there graves open,

the dead ask for headlines.

 

The good news is that I am

in the same place as Moses

 

walking around life when

sands shift. I reach my desert

 

retouching roots that match

the colour of parents’ home.

 

I forgot where they live now;

as close as my skin, as far as

 

a memory from when I was five.

There must be a house nearby

 

where someone stays awake

to warm up bottles of milk.

 

Instead of looking for it, I hold

a telescope aimed at the sky

 

marching past stray pebbles.

 

 

© Maria Stadnicka, June 2020

Until tomorrow / Free online reading 16th June, 7.30pm

Photograph: @John Stadnicki – MMXVIII

An opportunity to hear new work, as well as fragments from Somnia.

SOMNIA (front cover) published by The Knives Forks Spoons Press, April 2020.

Event organised by Gloucester Poetry Festival!

Registration and further information: here.

Thank you! Maria

Until tomorrow, you can listen to:

 

‘The Seventh Virtue’.

 

 

Note:
Latest book Somnia published this year by the Knives, Forks and Spoons Press was released on 6th April and can be ordered from the following independent bookshops:

Banner Books (Ennistymon)
http://bannerbooks.ie

Book Corner (Saltburn-by-the-Sea)
bookcornershop.co.uk

The Bookshop (East Grinstead)
eastgrinsteadbookshop.co.uk

Brendon Books (Taunton)
brendonbooks.co.uk

Bridge Bookshop (Isle of Man)
bridge-bookshop.com

Browsers Bookshop (Porthmadog)
browsersbookshop.com

Gullivers Bookshop (Wimborne)
booksandvinyl.co.uk/gullivers

Gnash Comics
gnashcomics.co.uk

Gwisgo Bookworm (Aberearon)
gwisgobookworm.co.uk

Haslemere Bookshop (Haslemere)
haslemerebookshop.co.uk

Hungerford Bookshop (West Berkshire)
hungerfordbookshop.co.uk

Lindum Books (Lincoln)
facebook.com/lindumbooks

Mostly Books (Abingdon)
mostly-books.co.uk

Niche Comics and Bookshop (Cambridgeshire)
nichecomics.co.uk

Red Lion Books (Colchester)
redlionbooks.co.uk

Sam Read Bookseller (Grasmere)
samreadbooks.co.uk

Wivenhoe Bookshop (Essex)
wivenhoebooks.com

The Woodstock Bookshop
woodstockbookshop.co.uk

Further information about her work, collaborations and reviews at http://www.mariastadnicka.com.

Join us on Zoom (you will need to register for a ticket in order to receive the pass-code):-

https://zoom.us/j/93290445542

Dial in to join by phone if you wish:-

+44 330 088 5830
+44 131 460 1196
+44 203 481 5237
+44 203 481 5240
+44 208 080 6591
+44 208 080 6592

Find your local number: https://zoom.us/u/aeg9xXpiad


15th June 2020

Overture

Photo: © JStadnicki, June 2020

Curtains go up on a scene

whose rear walls are shaking;

stagehands clear the background.

Spotlights on at the cast’s entrance.

 

I am your memory, he says,

and the back rows answer

with cheers and whistles. Heat

rises from our seats to the LEDs’

green flicker on the ceiling.

 

Breath-monologue, breath-monologue:

the script unravels, lines break

interrupted by adverts for bleach,

toothpaste, locally sourced colours.

 

The show flows until the speed

of a camera flash sets off a fire alarm.

Curtains down for emergency exit.

 

We push against tar-water dams,

open floodgates then move

to the front seats for a better view.

The theatre holds the roof up.

 

Every moment of terror begins like this.

It matches our lives so well,

It is us performing onstage.

 

© Maria Stadnicka, June 2020

16 June, 7.30pm (UK time). Free event online!

 

An opportunity to hear new work as well as fragments from Somnia.

Event organised by Gloucester Poetry Festival!

Registration and further information: here.

Thank you!

Note:
Latest book Somnia published this year by the Knives, Forks and Spoons Press was released on 6th April and can be ordered from the following independent bookshops:

Banner Books (Ennistymon)
http://bannerbooks.ie

Book Corner (Saltburn-by-the-Sea)
bookcornershop.co.uk

The Bookshop (East Grinstead)
eastgrinsteadbookshop.co.uk

Brendon Books (Taunton)
brendonbooks.co.uk

Bridge Bookshop (Isle of Man)
bridge-bookshop.com

Browsers Bookshop (Porthmadog)
browsersbookshop.com

Gullivers Bookshop (Wimborne)
booksandvinyl.co.uk/gullivers

Gnash Comics
gnashcomics.co.uk

Gwisgo Bookworm (Aberearon)
gwisgobookworm.co.uk

Haslemere Bookshop (Haslemere)
haslemerebookshop.co.uk

Hungerford Bookshop (West Berkshire)
hungerfordbookshop.co.uk

Lindum Books (Lincoln)
facebook.com/lindumbooks

Mostly Books (Abingdon)
mostly-books.co.uk

Niche Comics and Bookshop (Cambridgeshire)
nichecomics.co.uk

Red Lion Books (Colchester)
redlionbooks.co.uk

Sam Read Bookseller (Grasmere)
samreadbooks.co.uk

Wivenhoe Bookshop (Essex)
wivenhoebooks.com

The Woodstock Bookshop
woodstockbookshop.co.uk

Further information about her work, collaborations and reviews at http://www.mariastadnicka.com.

Join us on Zoom (you will need to register for a ticket in order to receive the pass-code):-

https://zoom.us/j/93290445542

Dial in to join by phone if you wish:-

+44 330 088 5830
+44 131 460 1196
+44 203 481 5237
+44 203 481 5240
+44 208 080 6591
+44 208 080 6592

Find your local number: https://zoom.us/u/aeg9xXpiad


June 2020

Colston versus Lenin – Using the Right Channels

Protesters taking down Colston statue. Bristol, UK / 7 Jun 2020

A statue of slave trader Edward Colston was torn down during an anti-racism protest in Bristol. The incident opened an ideological war in my household. We go over the pros and the cons of public disorder acts, we discuss the moral arguments which might justify or condemn these acts, while the Home Secretary, Priti Patel stands in Parliament reproving the thuggery committed by the Bristolian mob. Mayor Marvin Rees takes to national media to disapprove the protesters’ acts of violence during the past weekend. Social media is blasting. Opinion is split. Some ask for prosecution of violent mobsters, others express a sense of connection with the symbolic point made by protesters.

In Bristol, Colston’s statue went down in a matter of minutes, with the authorities’ disapproval. I remember that it took Ukraine 27 years to decide the removal of the infamous statues of Lenin from all its towns and villages. In 2017, all 1,307 statues went down, quietly and slowly, as a sign that Ukraine was finally ready to condemn its pro-soviet past, and to move on. The Ukrainian government went further and renamed streets, urban areas, parks, schools, in a national attempt to heal past injustice and loss of lives during the Soviet Era.

Ukrainians witnessing Lenin’s statue being taken down by local authorities. Aug. 2017

At my dinner table, the conversation is about the role of a peaceful protest in well-established democracies, as the Home Secretary carries on with her speech about the peaceful dialogue which needs to happen in our society. I’m reminded that we have structures in place to make peaceful changes under the common law, and following policies and procedures that safeguard equality in this country. There is a well-known corporate jargon about ‘using the right channels’ which is invoked on occasions when discrimination and inequality are at the centre of disputes between people, groups, societies, organisations.

Each private, public, voluntary, religious organisation, each workplace, each adult, teenager and child knows at least one principle of equality.  And yet, the more we know, the wider the social divide feels to those who have been, at least once, at the receiving end of inequality, of discrimination or injustice.

If we were equal, we should not need to be taught equality by the Home Secretary, as it would be an inherent quality of our social actions. Yet, Power teaches equality lessons using the boot of law against ‘thugs’, ‘criminals’, ‘mobsters’. A sign that we are not ready to recognise the injustice and its roots, nor to break free from past mistakes.

© Maria Stadnicka, June 2020

Week #11 Pandemia / Midlands, United Kingdom

At the end of Week #11, the lockdown measures started to ease off, amid concerns over increase in the ‘R’ number. From 0.7 to 1.1. Some schools are still closed, but some cafes are open for business. The #BlackLivesMatter movement was marked by protests in many towns and cities, including Stroud, Gloucestershire.

Overall, it rained, it yelled, it poured, it angered, then things carried on as usual.

© Maria Stadnicka, June 2020


Photography © John Stadnicki, June 2020, Midlands, UK