Photography © John Stadnicki, May 2020
When I feel lonely, I visit my local tip. Apart from Wednesdays, I’m guaranteed to find someone about, willing to help me get rid of a load of stuff which, up to that point, had prevented me from moving on in life. One time I discarded so much of my old junk that back home I noticed the front door sign was gone, and the post box which had my name on it. I got in, and a woman I’d never met before was moving about hoovering. She was wearing my shoes.
© Maria Stadnicka 2020
[From ‘Hermit Age’ sequence published in International Times on 25/01/2020.]
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.
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.
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.
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
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
It gives me great pleasure to find out that some of my texts have been included in Meniscus Literary Journal, published by the Australasian Association of Writing Programs. Thank you Distinguished Professor Jen Webb and the editorial team.
This latest edition creates a wider perspective of the current literary and poetic discourses, with excellent new and established international voices. A brilliant selection!
You can access the magazine here