Photography © John Stadnicki, May 2020
You wander countless streets
pass a pandemic that seems
to go on forever.
But nothing is eternal.
Photography © John Stadnicki, 2020
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.
The Stroud Book Festival is thrilled to once again be hosting an eclectic line-up of poets and poetry from Gloucestershire and beyond.
The first poet on the bill is multi-award-winning poet and broadcaster, Daljit Nagra, on Thursday 8th November at Wycliffe College, one of the festival’s splendid sponsors. Nagra, who was the first ever poet in residence at BBC Radio 4, will be reading from his latest book, ‘British Museum’, as well as earlier books, including the Forward Prize-winning ‘Yes We Have Coming to Dover!’
“He’s a marvellous reader of his work,” says Adam Horovitz, who will be introducing him on the night, “and his questing, questioning, witty and politically pertinent poems are well worth discovering aloud as well as on the page.”
On Friday 9th November, the Stroud Book festival Poetry Night offers up a wonderfully varied and immersive evening of readings, performance and music by a hand-picked bill of acclaimed poets, in two parts.
The first part brings together three poets with Gloucestershire connections: Kate Carruthers Thomas, Patrick Mackie and Maria Stadnicka. It closes with acclaimed Welsh poet and singer Paul Henry and will be compered by Adam Horovitz.
“On Saturday 10th November we’ll be celebrating the work of Gloucestershire poet and composer Ivor Gurney with a one-woman show starring writer and actor Jan Carey, to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One,” says the festival’s artistic director Caroline Sanderson. “Author, Composer, Soldier-of-a-sort: The Life and Work of Ivor Gurney is fresh from an acclaimed run at the Edinburgh Fringe this summer and we are delighted to bring the show to Stroud.
“We round off our poetry programme on Sunday 11th November with a magical family event inspired by nature,” adds Caroline. “We hope that children of all ages will come and meet Frann Preston Gannon, illustrator of the poetry anthology I-am-the-seed-that-grew-the-tree.
“It’s a glorious new gift anthology of 365 nature poems for children, spanning over 400 years of poetry, and including the work of poets as diverse as William Blake, Roger McGough, Carol Ann Duffy, John Agard, Eleanor Farjeon and William Wordsworth. As well as a chance to enjoy the poetry-telling, Frann will be encouraging children aged 6 and above to create and illustrate their very own nature poem.”
How to book tickets:
In person: at The Subscription Rooms, Stroud
By phone: by calling 01453 760900
Online at https://stroudbookfestival.org.uk