On Polar Bears and Euro Vision #Newsflash (part I)

©John Stadnicki, 2019

There is an invasion of polar bears in Russia. And the British press finally found out about it. When it happened, a week ago, the media wasn’t that interested to begin with. To be more specific, last week, the Russian authorities in the Novaya Zemlya islands declared state of emergency after dozens of polar bears entered residential and public buildings searching for food. This has been without precedent in the region and raises the climate change reality to a new level. And not just the climate change, in general, but the reality of heavy urbanism, socio-economics, pollution and many other sins of the neo-liberalist economies.

The British press wasn’t that keen on bears for reasons which can be, in part, understood. It applies the law of proximity. News is news only if it’s close enough to us. Last week, the media had a different concern. With the news about the British singer selected to perform at Eurovision, it had to re-think the strategy around coverage from Tel Aviv. And, lastly, the same media became consumed by an acute need to compete in predicting how bad things will be for all of us, once we are out of the EU. It is worth a mention that there are voices still in disbelief about Brexit. But there are increasingly more voices who question the whole legitimacy of the vote and the basis on which the Brexit process is based on.

In 2016, the Brexit referendum was primarily an electoral manoeuvre proposed by David Cameron who had become increasingly concerned with the threat posed by UKIP. The opportunism which motivated the referendum did not have the people’s best interest at heart. The government failed to articulate what Brexit really involved because Brexit was not actually supposed to happen. It was merely an exercise to get David Cameron elected and the Conservative Party united. When the politicians woke up to the shock results, the slogan ‘Brexit means Brexit’ took ground and quickly became a governmental mantra. The ministers themselves were unclear what Brexit meant and what plans needed to be in place to make the transition possible.

Two years later, after ‘heavy’ negotiations and ‘nerve holding,’ the political class is still praying for a miracle from Brussels, stocking paper and ink for the legislative system in need of restructure. In the meantime, millions of people who voted ‘pro’ or ‘against’ in 2016 are getting used to the shortage of beds in hospitals, the crowded doctors’ surgeries, the pharmacies experiencing delays in orders, the train cancelations, the ‘out of order’ buses, the increased criminality and suicide rate, the unaffordable houses. Many know, as they’ve been told in 2016, that the main problem this country has is the migration and not the polar bears nor the politics. And although people also know this is all a lie, they are too busy queuing, and put up with it. The French put up with far less.

(to be continued)

©Maria Stadnicka, 2019

Published in International Times, 16 Feb. 2019

Advertisements
Gallery

Gilets Jaunes Live

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Call for Creative Writing submissions!

Heritage. What does it mean to you? Family, identity, history… or something more?

The 2019 UOG Creative Writing Anthology – Heritage: New Writing VIII– is inviting prose, poetry and artwork submissions connected to the theme of ‘Heritage’ fromMonday 4thFebruary to Friday 8thMarch 2019. If you’re a student, employee or alumni of the University of Gloucestershire or Humber College, Canada, we want to hear from you!

See here for more details: https://uniofglos.blog/creativewriting/anthology/2019-heritage/and email submissions to heritageanthology@gmail.com.

Can’t wait to read your poetry!

Maria Stadnicka

‘Poets with History and Poets without History’ – Polarity in British Contemporary Poetry

In the past decade, cultural theorists formulated the concept of the ‘cultural fragmentation model’ which incorporates the influences of ‘contemporaneous social conditions’ as well as the constant transformations experienced within a society defined by change and competition. In contemporary poetry, the fragmentation model accommodates numerous directions and trends, some situated in a position of tension or conflict with each other. This phenomenon generates a polarised spectrum which has yet to crystallise into a cohesive operant model. Consequently, poetry is at a stage of self-discovery and exploration, whilst witnessing significant transformations with the influence of social and mass media.

The current cultural environment accommodates a wide range of poetic discourses, with many writers preoccupied to articulate their art and to engage with the readership and new audiences. However, the idea of tension or conflict in poetry is not new.

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 concept establishes a classic categorisation and polarity which are not without relevance within the contemporary British poetry. The current cultural reality has led to a generation of poets which Anne Stevenson defined in 2000 as being ‘at the mercy of technology and in thrall to the media.’ Furthermore, the new generation of poets is getting better at identifying its own specialist clientele and is exploring intense themes like abuse, misogyny, racism and mental illness.

Editors and poetry promoters observe that the poetry market is booming, as audiences for poetry, as well as poets themselves, are diversifying. Nielsen BookScan reported in 2017 a 66% increase in poetry books sales. Despite this positive development, theorists look at the contemporary poetry with criticism, if not cynicism.

Susan Sontag expresses her scepticism in reference to the contemporary poetry which, in her view, appears to suffer from an ‘uninhibited display of egotism’, thus igniting the need to redefine the concept of poetry as an art form. At the beginning of last year, Rebecca Watts published ‘The Cult of the Noble Amateur’ (PN Review) in which she includes the British poet Hollie McNish in the category of poets viewed as ‘noble amateurs’, preoccupied with self-promotion whilst offering the consumer an ‘instant gratification’. Watts expressed concern about the literary establishment’s readiness to modify the readership’s engagement with poetry. This modification or change implies the acceptance of mass media’s influence on poetry markets and, consequently, on poetry as literary genre.

But going back to the idea of ‘poets with history’/ ‘poets without history’ and the relevance within the current context, Marina Tsvetaeva’s reflections are as fascinating as they are applicable. Tsvetaeva identifies the ‘poets without history’ or ‘poets without development’ those poets consumed by personal expression and lyricism. Furthermore, she believes that such poets have ‘narrow knowledge and they come into world not to learn, but to say and to make themselves known. A poet without history cannot have a striving towards a goal. He himself doesn’t know what the lyric flood will bring him. His poetry has no project.’ (Tsvetaeva, 2010, p.139-140). By contrast, in Tsvetaeva’s vision, ‘poets with history’ are ’like an arrow shot into infinity. They seem to reincarnate in themselves all the days of creation. No more than the tirelessness of the creative will. They don’t have time to turn around to look at themselves, only pressing forward. The loneliness of such walkers!’ (Tsvetaeva, 2010, p.136-139)

The process of ‘looking forward’ implies a continuous drive to innovate and explore new artistic territories. This gives a new dimension to the idea of craft. These poets are not particularly visible on social media and they tend to engage with their readership through their work and public readings. Moreover, they become preoccupied with linguistic nuances and concepts, using language to its full capacity, to surprise and delight the reader over and over again.

Tsvetaeva’s axiom opens the discussion about the type of poetry set to formulate new trajectories in contemporary British culture. This poetry is ‘not necessarily the one which wins competitions in the Irish Times or the New Stateman’, as Seamus Heaney wrote in 1974, but a poetry which defines value systems and reveals new interpretations of the world. Moreover, it is not a detailed ‘self-interview’ but becomes memorable when the writer assumes the responsibility to challenge complacency, and has the courage to experience the transformative power of change.

©Maria Stadnicka, 2019

References:

Sontag, S. (2009) Against Interpretation and Other Essays.London: Penguin Random House.

Stevenson, A. (2000) A Few Words for the New Century. In: Herbert, W.N. and Hollis, M. (eds.) (2015) Strong Words. Modern Poets on Modern Poetry.Hexham: Bloodaxe Books, Pages 181-183.

Tsvetaeva, M. (2010) Art in the Light of Conscience: Eight Essays on Poetry. Hexham: Bloodaxe Books.

Watts, R. (2018) The Cult of the Noble Amateur. PN Review 239. Vol. 44, No. 3. Available from https://www.pnreview.co.uk/cgi-bin/scribe?item_id=10090.

 

Landscape with Buses

 

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

Bolshoi Rehearsal

Photography: ©JStadnicki, ‘Studio’ 2018

 

53.2. Numbers blink, red dots on scales

show my thighs have grown

by two-hundred grams. I open the window.

Adverts for drama productions hang across skies,

a heavy woman squeezes against glass

to make room for me.

 

For lunch, I swallow crushed ice,

wood shavings, a full glass of tap water;

jump on the treadmill: thirty-eight minutes,

three-point-two miles, three hundred calories.

Lost two-hundred grams.

 

A neighbour rings, invites me to dinner

saying the man living at number four died

hit by a bus on the way to the gym.

He was 73 kilos. I am 53.

 

I stop eating protein, google public transport

routes, pick-up times for stones-pounds.

Every day at 9:45, a stout driver reminds passengers:

‘No hot food at the back. Only light snacks.’

 

Indoors. Drawing jogging maps

on steaming shower curtains.

Shampoo waves on my striped ribcage.

Sea splashes away in the bathroom.

Sand grains hide in my shoe.

 

©Maria Stadnicka, 2018