‘The Unmoving is a dark and delicious exploration of post war landscape. Maria Stadnicka’s beautifully crafted lines cut like a knife, her poems come to the page like water from a deep well, only the well has been poisoned. Masterfully succinct and shrouded in Stadnicka’s trademark sense of mystery, The Unmoving is as vivid a poetry chapbook as you’re ever likely to read’ (Broken Sleep Books, 2018).
The Unmoving, Maria Stadnicka (32pp, £5/$7, Broken Sleep Books)
‘Maria Stadnicka’s pieces from The Unmoving are exceptionally accomplished, puzzling, rich, linguistically aware yet full of dark emotional stuff: ‘A chill sliced through the city / awoken stone rolled over the main road / as if that slippery thought / / crossed my wrist’ (Steve Spence, 2019, Litter Magazine).
“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. Is there an element of grace, a lyrical thread, an invocation of human beauty? Yes, if one can continue to believe in this beauty while contemplating the profound alienation and marginalization that characterizes contemporary Western societies.
Although Stadnicka writes in English, her native language, Romanian, is always close to the surface of the words, forging and sculpting the associations that create the poems’ presence. Her language mirrors the human mind, elliptical at times, obsessional from time to time, fragile and reflective when the moments present themselves. ‘A moon of salt unravels / the shadow between years, / unfolding a passage / grey chapter about mortality’ offers a lyrical entrance to the book. The reader moves swiftly into the core of Stadnicka’s vision, ‘the wounds of freedom’.
One of the most beautiful poems in the book is ‘Restitutio’. Transformation of thought and body occurs as the voice of the poem articulates the ars poetica, an incendiary gesture born out of an already-condemned historical contex:
I covered my face with black ink
rounded all my possessions up
set fire to everything.
The gods hid in a poem
with a fresh loaf.
Just us now slicing away
to the end of my days.
What concerns Maria Stadnicka? How do these strangely forced collages that are hermetic and yet entirely exposed allow the reader entrance to her world? 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 reader is drawn to the quote from Czeslaw Milosz that frames the book: ‘So much guilt behind them and such beauty!’
The title poem, ‘The Unmoving’, dislocates the predictability of images and pulls together the motifs of Stadnicka’s poetry. A book slips, the world is seen as ‘a time-capsule sent flying into space’, a missile wakes the ‘half-dreaming’ narrator, someone is walking down the motorway, people materialize with a dog for sale, ‘The music absorbed what was left of Rana Plaza’ and the reader is once again confronted with the Savor Building collapse that killed 1,134 people in Bangladesh. The narrator is displaced and ‘The ground settled between reference points.’
In a sense, The Unmoving is a defense of the marginalized, the poor, the displaced and disabled. The poems create a sense of urgency and mystery. The only escape from the imposed absolute of non-being is resolution to go forward illogically and irrationally free. ‘For the first time, I / walked. Blind, absent. / I became tomorrow’ (Andrea Morehead, Osiris, 2018).
‘These are poignant and pertinent poems – and they do move, by the way – from Maria Stadnicka and are in another fine Broken Sleep Book publication you can get.’ (Mike Ferguson, writer [The full review, here.])
‘I’m not sure whether English is Maria Stadnicka’s second or third language (her country of origin is Romania) but what she accomplishes in these mainly minimalist texts is something quite special. There’s an underlying sense of ‘exile’ which permeates the whole collection and a quality of empathy with suffering, particularly related to those who are alienated within an environment, for whatever reasons. Her mixing of narrative snippets (the syntax and grammar are straightforward) with experimental jousts and fragmentary dislocation are central tenets here, which tend to make the reader focus in on every line and its relation to those around it. There’s certainly a sculptural quality to this writing, a combining of a hint of a lyric voice which is enveloped in a darkly surreal context, or series of contexts. ‘Meaning’ is evasive, suggested and to be ‘worried over’, in the sense that these are not easy poems to assimilate but the difficulty is part of their success and engaging with them is well worth the effort, stimulating, thought-provoking and at times quite shocking. They are not exactly impenetrable but the sense of alienation you may experience in attempting a reading is probably analogous to that of ‘the protagonists’ and the ‘I’ of the narrative voice where it exists. The overall ‘mood’ is one of distance/dislocation and while the images are often direct and full of impact – ‘Back home from the cinema / I stumbled over a man in a pool of blood’ (from ‘Eyewitness 73) – there remains a sort of penumbral ‘out-of-focus’ quality which is quite unnerving. (…) There is certainly a sense of the ‘dark beauty’ of Czeslaw Milosz in this poetry and it’s no surprise to see him referred to in the prefacing quotations'(Steve Spence, writer, Litter Magazine). [Full review here.]
‘Maria Stadnicka’s poetry is the most exciting I have read for some time. Her particular experience in Romania means that the political is not an option: she embraces it. Her work is on the frontline, also underscored by her background in journalism and broadcasting. But the genius of her poetry is to take the literal beyond itself into memorable and surreal flights of metaphor, while remaining firmly anchored at the same time. For English readers, her poetry is ‘other’; and I welcome that at a time when poetry needs to wake up to the contribution it can make at this time of transition and transparency. Our task as poets is to ‘see’: to divine a deeper reality. Her truth-gaze is unswerving‘ (Jay Ramsay, writer, editor).
“Spare and honed, and full of lyrical power, Maria’s poetry packs a punch.” (Anna Saunders, writer, CEO and founder of Cheltenham Poetry Festival)
“The simple grey and black cover of this book –texture perhaps taken from a tree or wall, with a white crack or line separating author’s name and book title – is in many ways apt for what the reader find inside: a collection of beguiling, uneasy poems that probe ideas of love, politics and human experience.
The work reminds me of Charles Simic’s and Yannis Ritsos’ poetry (I don’t mean it is derivative), and also the gentler end of Vaska Popa’s work. There is the same clarity of images and voice with little metaphor or allusion. Instead a kind of surrealism is at work in the direction the narratives take, in the thought processes being evidenced with their jumps and asides, their sometimes awkward and surprising conclusions. In ‘Settlement’ the narrator has ‘no further questions’ for God, so instead offers him a ham sandwich; in ‘Bad Luck’ the poem moves from a fall through Googled medical self-assessment to burns and then self-immolation, but even as the house burns a neighbour pops in to talk about the weather and running out of tea bags. In Good Bye Then Clara’s giggle melted in a slice of bread.
As Jay Ramsay points out in his back cover blurb, in many ways this poetry is ‘other’. This may be because of Stadnicka’s experiences growing up in Romania, the effect on her of the Cold War, a slight awkwardness in the details of English (e.g. ‘Good Bye Then’ or ‘it stopped me / understand the real life’) or simply her poetics. Whatever, Stadnicka has now found a home in Stroud, in language, and clings on to a hope that underpins the poems, even if this is belied by poems like ‘The Calais Sea’, where
After weeks and weeks of travels,
for the last time, I put my bags down.
I am done with hope.
The lingering tragedy
of what I could be if
we had the right words for tomorrow.
Elsewhere, in a world of inevitable death, madness, broken families, soldiers, barbaric politics and dehumanization, even when there are ‘no other survivors’, ‘even without a language’, Stadnicka defiantly demands that she ‘go on / being allowed to hope’. And does.
This an exciting and urgent first book of poems, that gives me hope for contemporary poetry. I look forward to the next instalment of Maria Stadnicka’s questionings, rememberings and imaginings.” (Rupert Loydell, writer and editor Stride and International Times)
“Wonderful book. Not an easy read, but a slow and developed meditation of what it means to be living in a century which isn’t going as well as we’d had reason to hope. Imperfect, indeed. (And also about how things ‘used to be’ in the grammatical sense of ‘imperfect’.) The blend of multiple shades of English is powerfully employed” (Philip Rush, writer, editor, director Yew Tree Press).
“Transformative. I listened to ‘Imperfect’ and it was icily, flaringly clear….the words heard with the inner ear (some call it the ear of god). When listened to so, do penetrate and stir to a clarity of upheaving perception” (Rick Vick, poet).
“Maria Stadnicka’s latest collection of poetry ‘Imperfect’ provides touching snapshots of ordinary life, whilst also serving as an expression of her experience during the Cold War. (…) I am deeply moved. The England she hints at is far more faceted than the one I see on the news. Her poetry, whether exploring her experience here or in Europe, makes me see my country – with all its pockets of tender and mournful instances – with fresh eyes” (Anna Bailey, journalist, Good on Paper).
“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” (David Clarke, editor, poet, author of The Europeans, Nine Arches Press).