©John Stadnicki, 2019
In the past decade, cultural theorists formulated the concept of the ‘cultural fragmentation model’ to incorporate the experiences of ‘contemporaneous social conditions’ as well as the constant transformations 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
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.
‘Man bites dog’ is the first principle learnt at uni. Thought I could never fully picture the concept, I always imagined the breed of dog which would make man resort to such extreme behaviour. Despite its metaphoric connotation, ‘man vs dog’ has proven to be a successful broadcasting formula for decades. With time, the ‘dog’ matters less and other realities take its place.
News moves with fluidity on the axis entertainment – truth value. It becomes irrelevant that the closer to entertainment, the further we slide away from reality. Whilst audiences are locked in a labyrinth of breaking news and data, most people have little time to investigate what goes on in the real world. It is not surprising that among the most googled questions one finds what time is it?, is it going to rain today?, how can I make money? or what is my name?. Who has the luxury to look beyond? We trust that journalists have it, and they should take the responsibility upon themselves to bring forward the missing parts of our world. And they do.
Without their work, I wouldn’t have known that, between 1997-2006, 378 journalists were killed doing their job. I wouldn’t have known that Wikileaks was already one year old in 2007, three months had passed since Anna Politovskaya’s murder, a new diplomatic row started between London and Moscow (over Britain’s bid for extradition of Andrei Lugovoi, an ex-KGB agent accused of Litvinenko’s murder), that Russia suspended participation in the 1990 Conventional Armed Forces Treaty in Europe (a treaty that limits the deployment of heavy military equipment across Europe.)
I wouldn’t have remembered that the EU expanded with two more states, Romania and Bulgaria, Barack Obama was in full presidential campaign and Gordon Brown moved from 11 to 10 Downing Street. 2007, a few months till the Lehman Brothers Bankruptcy, which triggered global recession. The Doomsday Clock was moved to five minutes to midnight in response to North Korean renewed nuclear ambitions and tests. The War in Afghanistan and the Iraq War, in full swing.
These are facts from a distant past now. History. It is already history that 612 journalists were killed doing their job, between 2007-2016. Almost double than the previous decade. History too, last week’s sigh of relief watching Notre-Dame being saved by a near-miracle. In the meantime, history added a new name to statistics: Lyra McKee.
©Maria Stadnicka, 2019
Published in International Times on 27/04/2019.
It starts with a study in curves.
Lost in broad daylight, I think
in intimate terms about pencils,
sharpened by a schoolboy
oblivious to Barthes’ empire.
Time, the only thing I have not.
I shall pray for you she hissed, leaving.
Ashes to ashes I laugh,
turn the machine off, move
closer to anger.
Hands, metal, ankles, metal, eye. Metal! Nerves.
I practise benign indifference.
I learn about human squares and circles,
underline the connective distance
between something lost
and something irreplaceable.
© Maria Stadnicka, published at Mary Evans Picture Library.
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.
Over a month ago, the media pointed out that the price of gold increased again. A sign that investors are using gold against weaker stocks, as a response to the uncertainty surrounding Brexit and the trade disputes around the world. But even a child knows that when gold starts shining, it is a sign of trouble ahead.
The recent Brexit developments send waves of worry throughout Europe, whilst governments across the English Channel are increasingly interested in taking back control over their money.
Only a year ago, the National Bank of Hungary took back three tons of the country’s national gold reserves stored at the Bank of England. The decision followed similar reactions from Austria, Germany, Holland and Venezuela, which considered storing the national gold reserves in London a risky decision.
For a few days now, the Romanian authorities have been debating whether to take back their sixty tonnes of gold stored in the London vaults. With the crisis of storage space the British authorities have been facing for years, I imagine that storing a country’s national gold is not cheap.
Sixty tonnes is, by any means, a lot. Imagine ten elephants put together, if one takes the average weight of one elephant at around six tonnes. To put it simply though, the average weight of 15 people together, say, in an elevator, is about one tonne. By the same logic, sixty tonnes of Romanian gold is about 900 Romanian migrants, currently living in London.
What would be the weight in gold of 300,000 Romanian migrants currently in the UK? And what about the 3.7 million European migrants, in the UK? Imagine that gold! Imagine the value!
But in this equation, and in all Brexit negotiations, who is looking at what value people have, when financial interests are at stake?
©Maria Stadnicka, 2019.
Published in International Times, 9/03/19.