Photography © John Stadnicki, May 2020
© Maria Stadnicka, November 2019.
Writer Ian Seed (author of New York Hotel, a TSL Book of the Year) wrote: ‘one of the best books of poetry I’ve read this year is Maria Stadnicka’s extraordinarily vivid collection, Somnia.’
‘Stadnicka’s poetics is one of craftmanship, wherein she carefully walks the tightrope of surreal poetic metaphor and the gritty realism of investigative journalism and broadcasting.’ (Briony Hughes, writer and critic, Stride Magazine, October 2019)
‘Somnia is consistently alluring and enigmatic in its poetic voice. What compels it’s Stadnicka’s calm creativity in conveying the horrors and/or abstractions of these – her poetic voice completely comfortable in its suggestiveness: inventive, provoking, highly visual.’ (Mike Ferguson, writer and critic, International Times, September 2019)
Somnia will be launched on 5th December 2019, 8pm. Free entry.
Publisher: Knives, Forks and Spoons Press.
Editor: Alec Newman
Cover artwork: Mark Mawer
Thirty years ago, the fall of the Berlin Wall signalled the final months of communist regimes 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 the Eastern Block states. The change meant new societal structures and political strategies, created in response to the demands of newly formed democratic systems. 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 had defined the Cold War, The West began the reconfiguration of own strategies, while maintaining scepticism about the viability of Eastern democracies. However, the European institutions appeared to put aside old ideological conflicts which were replaced with economic alliances. Europe appeared united around a common purpose. The East-West divide went underground, driven by economic competition, by cultural misunderstanding and misinterpretation.
Transition is always marked by change, insecurity, doubt, pain, loss, anxiety and conflict. All transitions have similar attributes. Transition emerges when a revolution ends. Transition brings probing questions about values, beliefs and principles, forcing a society to find new answers. During transition, a society ends up reconfiguring its own institutions and their symbolic power.
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 cultures and societies. In poetry, for instance, the 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.
If my dentist wasn’t a dentist, he would have been a political analyst. Or maybe he is, in his spare time. I must ask him at my next check-up. My experience of ‘butchery dentistry’ during the Soviet Era makes me plan the trips to Alex’s practice to the finest detail. So much so that I’m already an hour early, hoping to have made a mistake and hear Jenny saying your appointment was yesterday, but she offers me tea instead. A patient asks whether we should be waiting for fresh scones too, and the room bursts into laughter.
I never thought people could laugh at the dentist, but there we go. I laugh too, when the door opens and Alex shows me in. Any news, he asks. I think about my 42 mobile news alerts screaming from the back pocket. It’s only midday. I barely slept these past four days, waiting for a catastrophic British exit, worrying about knife crime, thinking that my next-door neighbour could be a serial killer for what I know, as he always looks cheerful when I walk past his garden. This exact scenario featured in a three-part documentary I watched back to back last week. I am sure I have an undetected disease. The scientist who presented the last episode of Horizon made me believe that I’m so ill, I started monitoring my dog for behavioural changes.
Any news, then? As I struggle to answer with an open mouth, I mutter No, though I want to confess my addiction to technology when he takes his phone out and says I wish there were no news. Like in 1930.
Alex reminds me of the ideal news bulletin, on 18thApril 1930 when the BBC news presenter had nothing to communicate to the nation. His script of the 8: 45pm bulletin was: There is no news, followed by 15-minute piano music.
My gums look healthy, while the D-Day celebrations are in full swing on TV.
© Maria Stadnicka, 2019
Published in International Times, 22nd June 2019.
I went out to town and took pictures
of people in queue at the shopping mall.
A third of them had been there since Friday;
pilgrims waiting for new prayer beads.
They sat on the pavement holding
their thoughts in tightly zipped handbags.
The sun kept quiet in one corner watching
the autumn busking outdoors
when a beggar stopped, asking everyone
for directions to the nearest abattoir.
Nobody knew precisely where the roads led
but smiled back at him
through the surveillance cameras.
©Maria Stadnicka, 2019
Published in Litter magazine, 22/02/2019.
On both sides of the frontline,
orchards in bloom.
People buy and sell goods,
occupy central squares,
dogs run after barefoot children
with grain baskets – linen flags.
Buses on schedule, taxis in queue.
Business as usual.
Gunshots, grenades, mortars.
Stray barks come out of houses
with blown-up windows. Splinters
rising – morning’s canines.
Soldiers wake up to the call to prayer,
switch radio on, shave by the roadside.
Nametags rest in shoe polish tins,
heat bakes bread already sliced.
Buses carry wounded further inland.
Poem published in Sweat, Ink and Tears, 8th Jan. 2019, available here.
©Maria Stadnicka, 2019