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 first signs of European meltdown are showing the crude side of politics. Ukraine will not take part in this year’s Eurovision Song contest. A shame. I like Ukrainian music, but the singer Maruv pulled out, over disagreements about imposed conditions by the Ukrainian national broadcaster. The Russian delegation is considering its position, though they are completely oblivious to all this, knowing well ‘you need to be in it, to win it.’
I suppose many overlook the fact that the whole point of Eurovision was to rebuild a war-torn continent in the mid 50s. It should have been outside politics and scandal. To my shame, though, I’m guilty of overlooking many things about Eurovision too.
I’m used to ignoring Eurovision, although I kind of expect it to happen. I have the same love-hate relationship with it, as I have with the weather forecast. I know it happens after each news bulletin so, by the time the presenter shows the maps, I switch off and check the weather on my mobile phone.
This time though, with Brexit looming, I remember that Eurovision has been going on for ages. And it has been about politics. For ages too. This realisation helps me understand why the Brexit Backstop is the real ‘apple of discord’ in the negotiations between the British and the European technocrats.
By the end of the day, Ireland has won Eurovision seven times. An absolute record. Britain only five times, with its most recent victory registered over 21 years ago. As it stands so far, both Ireland and the UK kept their places secure at Eurovision 2019.
I dread to think what would happen if Britain wins and London has to host Eurovision 2020. Or, another dreadful possibility, the Brexit Backstop stays in place and Ireland wins Eurovision again.
©Maria Stadnicka, 2019
Published in International Times on 16 March 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.
Last month, I was delighted to attend the launch of a new book of poems by Maria Stadnicka, a Romanian-born poet living and working in Stroud. Before coming to the UK in 2003, Maria worked as a radio and TV broadcaster, presenter and radio editor. She also won a series of national poetry prizes. In 2010 she became member of the Stroud Writers Group, Gloucestershire.
I first become aware of Maria’s poetry when Yew Tree Press published her beautifully illustrated short collection A Short Story about War (as Maria Butunoi) in 2014 and her new poems, collected in Imperfect (also Yew Tree Press), are a welcome addition to her English-language work. Maria’s poems are restrained and precisely crafted miniatures: enigmatic narratives shot through with dark humour and surreal detail, they are eminently political, but rarely tackle Politics (with a capital P) head on. In all of these respects, they put me in mind of the work of Greek poet Yannis Ritsos, yet there also seem to me to be echoes of Kafka: the poems record fragile surface realities, beneath which lurk the symptoms of violence and oppression. This is a poetry of unease, and all the more honest for that, but also ultimately a poetry of hope, recording the struggle of the subject to maintain its integrity in troubled times.
Maria has agreed to feature as my guest poet in this post, which presents here poem ‘City’. Of the poem, Maria writes:
‘What can I know?’….’What can I know?’…This is not my question. Immanuel Kant answered it already, a long time ago, and many other thinkers answered it in their own way too. As a society, we slowly learnt to get used to ‘knowing’ everything a priori. When there is no obvious difference between ‘freedom’ and ‘dogma’, what is the point in asking? Everything is ‘google-able’, right?
Happy to be given the answer, happy to steer clear of uncomfortable dirt and pain. Happy and safe. But isn’t that called oppression?
Recently I have been thinking about oppression and the subtle nuances revealed by urbanism. The layers and layers of conformity which are impossible to eradicate without consequences. But then… how else shall we build consensus?
And one afternoon, walking through my working class town, out of the blue an answer kept staring me in the face. There was the rain and the shops closing at 5 o’clock and people hurrying to get the dinner ready. There was an English February, defined by our sleepwalking hyperreality. Me and everybody else: surrendered, crushed.
This afternoon we passed the city prison walls
fighting the wintry wind with a broken umbrella.
It was precisely five o’clock and
a girl on a bicycle overtook an old man
holding a rope.
About the same time,
the ice cream van closed.
The armed police arrived
to disperse the queue with tear-gas.
In the near distance, people ran
between horizontal watermarks
back to their semi-detached
We had nothing to stop for and then, I think,
I paused and
I covered my arms with a piece of history.
David Clarke, poet, thinker and critic. http://athingforpoetry.blogspot.co.uk/p/david-clarke.html
This is it. The book is done, the summer arrived. ‘Imperfect’ is published by Yew Tree Press, Philip Rush, Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK and printed by Andrew Morrison, Stroud, UK. Price: £10 with free P&P.
Curator: Jay Ramsay
Photography: @Joss Beeley
Please order the book at email@example.com