Transitia Miserabilia: The Illusion and Delusion of Change

Thirty years ago, the fall of the Berlin Wall signalled the final months of the communist regime in East Europe, leading to a period of transition which culminated with the end of the Cold War.  It marked the transition from realist-socialism to democracy in all the Eastern Block states. This change required new societal structures and new political strategies, in response to the demands of a functioning democratic system. The transition from mono-party governance to political plurality was difficult and, at times, painful for all newly formed democracies, unaccustomed to rapid market and social changes.

It was as difficult for the Western side of the continent. Left without its common goal which defined the Cold War, the West began the reconfiguration of own strategies, while maintaining scepticism about the viability of the Eastern democracies. However, the European institutions began to change, putting aside old ideological conflicts and replacing them with economic alliances. Europe appeared more united around a common purpose, whilst the East-West divide went underground, driven by economic competition, by cultural misunderstanding and misinterpretation coming from both sides.

Transition is always marked by change, insecurity, doubt, pain, loss, anxiety and conflict. All transitions have similar attributes. Transition is a societal natural process which emerges when a revolution ends. Transition brings probing questions about values, beliefs and principles, forcing a society to find new answers. During this process, a society ends up reconfiguring its own institutions and the symbolic power it attributed to them or to groups of people.

Vermeulen (2010) opens another thread of discussion about transition. He proposes ‘metamodernism’ as a concept which defines the current developments in aesthethics, philosophy and arts. These developments are less and less focused on tensions between countries or religions or genders, rich or poor, young or old, black or white.

Vermeulen (2010) identifies that the contemporaneity experiences a more fundamental tension; between past and future. In his vision, our response to this transition it’s about whether ‘we settle for the same divisions, distractions and drama that passes for politics today, or whether we reach for a politics of common sense and innovation, a politics of shared sacrifice and shared prosperity’ (2010).

Transition is defined by fragmentation, a model which dominated the past decade and which has proven detrimental to the cultural space. In poetry, for instance, this fragmentation created conflict, polarisation and an artistic space unable to cope with / and to respond to, the pace of our time. Whilst poets are caught in the bubble of their own discourse, the artistic focus shifted to expand the engagement with the readership, and to find new audiences.

And one would say, it is all part of this change. Nothing wrong with it.

It’s not. But it is!

This type of transition is wrong, when the cultural space shows, as Stevenson (2000) says, that our generation of poets is ‘at the mercy of technology and in thrall to the media.’ It causes the illusion of power and relevance in a culture which has not yet defined what ‘relevance in poetry’ actually is. It is wrong, when the new generation of poets ‘proliferate under pressure to please a specialist clientele’ (Stevenson, 2000). It is wrong, as Susan Sontag remarked in 2002, when contemporary poetry begins to suffer from an ‘uninhibited display of egotism.’ It proliferates a cultural delusion defined by everything goes, everything is important, everything needs to be heard.

In 1934, Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva published the essay ‘Poets with History and Poets without History’ in which she identifies two opposing categories of poets (and poetry): ‘poets without history’ and ‘poets with history.’

The first category refers to poets preoccupied with self-expression, whilst the second category refers to poets engaged in artistic discovery and literary innovation. Tsvetaeva’s categorization is not without relevance today, more than eighty years later.

The ‘poets without history’ or ‘poets without development’ as she said, include poets consumed by personal expression.

‘Sometimes their knowledge is narrow and they come into world not to learn, but to say. They come into world to make themselves known. […] A poet without history cannot have a striving towards a goal, as his/hers poetry has no project.’

By contrast, in Tsvetaeva’s vision, ‘poets with history’ are:

’like an arrow shot into infinity. They seem to inhabit the creative will, don’t have time to turn around to look at themselves, only pressing forward.’

The process of ‘looking forward’ implies a continuous drive to innovate and explore new artistic territories. And here is our moment of metamodernism, the moment when our transition begins a dialogue between past and future. This is a cultural opportunity which rejects both illusion and delusion, preoccupied with shaping the power of its voice, rather than consumed by its own narrative.

And what kind of poetry can face such a challenge? To quote Seamus Heaney, it is a poetry which doesn’t win ‘competitions in the Irish Times or the New Statesman’ (Heaney, 1974, 2000). It is not a detailed self-interview, but a poetry which questions systems, and it reveals new interpretations of the world. This poetry becomes memorable when the writer assumes the responsibility to challenge complacency, and has the courage to experience the transformative power of change.

© Maria Stadnicka, September 2019 / Published in ‘Stride’ magazine on 15 October 2019.

The SHIFT Project: Art Transforms / 12th-18th October 2019

 

It started with one drawing, followed by an art installation, then an art exhibition.

Created by the young artist Robin Watkins-Davis, The SHIFT Project: Art Transforms is now setting the scene for outreach projects, participatory workshops based on contemporary art, well-being, music, dance and poetry.

The project is focused on creating community collaborations, bringing together art and movement, to support well-being and to improve mental health.

The SHIFT Project takes place 12-18th October 2019 | St Laurence Church, Stroud, GL5 1AP. The full programme is available here. Click here to find out more about it, to support the students, artists and to get involved.

I am delighted to support The SHIFT Project: Art Transforms. My performance inspired by the SHIFT art installation will take place on Sunday, 13thOctober at 5.30pm, at St Laurence Church. It includes texts from latest collection SOMNIA, published by The Knives Forks Spoons Press.

The SHIFT Project: Art Transforms brings together 17 local organisations and charities and 37 artists. You can make a difference and support the project here. Thank you and look forward to seeing you @SHIFT.

The SHIFT Project is also supported by: SGS College, Create Gloucestershire, Strike a Light, VRC Publishing and Curating, CORE Lighting, Barnwood Trust, Diocese of Gloucester, Stroud Sacred Music Festival, Arts Award, School of Larks, ACP, Stroud Visual Arts (SVA), Bliss by Robin, Stroud Yoga Space, Look Again, Fair Shares, Gloucester Gateway Trust & All Pulling Together.

Maria Stadnicka, 2019

Canine Laws

© Claire Palmer, 2019 ‘International Times’

A dog believes people are dogs as well.
To people, this is of no consequence.  Humans
are immune to associations, particularly to
associations with Evil; specially if the root of
their actions is Evil itself.

If a dog keeps running away from home, let
him free. He needs to find where the noise
comes from.

In canine terms, silence is an instrument for
torturing dogs who are no longer useful to
their masters. If asked, people would deny
knowledge of this.

Despite clocks, dogs measure time in
intervals passed between the end of
punishment and the beginning of wound
healing. Once the skin seals up, people
rewind the clocks.

It takes a lifetime to a dog to become
human, and three weeks to a human to
become beast.

© Maria Stadnicka, 2019. Published in International Times, 14/09/19.

 

Somnia is out now.

Somnia is published by Knives, Forks and Knives Press, 76 pages, £10. Editor: Alec Newman, cover image, collage: © Mark Mawer, 2019.

If Cain and Abel played the piano, Somnia would have been a piece written for them. Following the four movements of Schubert’s Fantasia in F MinorSomnia explores the hidden connections between a group of people who witness a crime as they come out of a cinema.  Reading their testimony, it becomes increasingly apparent that the murderer is bigger than all of them. Bigger than all of us put together. 

 

‘One of the best books of poetry I’ve read this year is Maria Stadnicka’s extraordinarily vivid collection, Somnia.’ (Ian Seed, writer and academic, author of New York Hotel, a TSL Book of the Year)

‘First and foremost, this is a wonderful collection: every poem is an evocative and moving vignette of personal/persona observation at its most poignant as well as uncertain. As readers we cross over surprises to arrive at others – the spaces between are landscapes of everywhere we have and haven’t been, transient like some memories, and as fixed as recurring dreams. […]

As an entity – the poems so often reveal their menace in pervasive rather than direct ways. They work in partnership by a different kind of sharing: obviously, the poetic which is the richly imaginative connections across and within the poems [the superb impact of all], and then there are the forces beyond individual control where our lives are determined by a common dissembling of what we thought was free-will and personal, decisive experience – and this is what we consistently read in them.

Somnia is consistently alluring and enigmatic in its poetic voice. What compels isn’t just the draw into many mysteries, but also Stadnicka’s calm creativity in conveying, for example, the horrors and/or abstractions of these – her poetic voice completely comfortable in its suggestiveness: inventive, provoking, highly visual.’ (Mike Ferguson, International Times, September 2019)

A chisel, a hammer, a lyre; reportage, intimate feelings, quips and criticisms. Maria Stadnicka’s poems are clusters of consciousness, graphic, material images of our world. Her language assaults, bends, cajoles, thrusts a saber into the darkness of the very language she employs to explore death, degradation, the non-recognition of the human individual, war, urban violence, in short, the all-too-present context of our daily lives. […] What concerns Maria Stadnicka? She is speaking about the discontinuity of personal space and the intrusion of economic and political forces in an individual’s life that leads to fragmentation and, ultimately, to the dissolution of one’s reality. The chance for the existence of a future or even the future is removed. Literature becomes the communication and solidarity that permit the step towards wholeness. In Stadnicka’s poems social, personal, and literary landscapes are fused and at times must be forcibly dislocated, both repositioned and torn apart, so that one can continue. The poems create a sense of urgency and mystery. The only escape from the imposed absolute of non-being is resolution to go forward irrationally free.’ (Andrea Morehead, about The Unmoving)

Somnia is available here: Knives, Forks and Spoons Press.

Defending Democracy

 

Watching the British parliamentary debate last night was a painful experience. The political class has proven to be a group asking and answering its own questions, loyal to its own ideology, pushing the societal divide even further. The televised mockery, wave of insults and well-rehearsed propaganda made parents sent their children to bed early. Many would like to forget what has just happened and, maybe, if possible, to erase the whole chapter from history books. Politicians say ‘they are tired’, referring to the general public watching the live broadcast.

There has been much discussion about the fact that ‘people’ are tired of this Brexit issue, and want it resolved. We are led into believing that we are all tired, and that the public irascibility is caused by the unresolved crisis launched by the Brexit referendum. It is worth remembering that the ‘people’ have not, in fact, created this crisis. In 2016, most people minding their own lives and jobs have been made aware of the referendum by politics. This ‘need’ was man-made, the present democratic crisis was politically manufactured.

For this reason, I am not tired to go back to history books and to dig out examples when freedom of speech and social institutions have been silenced by unelected leaders. Yesterday’s proroguing of Parliament has a great significance, as it creates a historic precedent by limiting the actions of an institution created to question and to challenge governmental decisions. In this context, I wonder who is governing the Government now.

I become increasingly aware that our legacy is defined by the fact that we have taken the democratic values and institutions for granted. Democracy does not defend itself. Democracy can be safeguarded by people keeping a close eye on those governing, and by being involved in decisional processes. Democracy can be defended when people’s values and principles are clear and are functioning. When people are willing to easily give up these values and principles, we face political tragedy.

© Maria Stadnicka, September 2019.

The Moth, Issue 38

Reading Issue 38/ Autumn 2019 of ‘The Moth’, the beautiful Irish art and literature magazine edited by Rebecca O’Connor.

This issue features a brilliant interview with the American novelist Gary Shteyngart, interview with the Irish poet Stephen Sexton, poetry and prose. Thank you for including my work!

A great way to enjoy the Sunday autumnal light.

You can access the magazine online here: The Moth.

MStadnicka, 2019.