© Maria Stadnicka 2020
© Maria Stadnicka 2020
I inherit a house at the edge
of wild forests where I rarely go.
There will come a time when lost,
walking the back streets of memory,
I check every gate for a way out.
Only one door handle fits my palm.
A found story I never thought
I was missing; my home, dark
monument recognises my hand.
God forbid this mistake of certainty,
for it brings familiarity of place,
it reduces everything to beginnings
until I admit that what is gone is taller
than me, louder, and always right.
Ask Jonah. He would say the same:
People see monuments as lessons of hierarchy.
They decide the order of things
according to confining walls.
© Maria Stadnicka, 2020
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.
Somnia is published by Knives, Forks and Knives Press, 76 pages, £10. Editor: Alec Newman, cover image, collage: © Mark Mawer, 2019.
If Cain and Abel played the piano, Somnia would have been a piece written for them. Following the four movements of Schubert’s Fantasia in F Minor, Somnia explores the hidden connections between a group of people who witness a crime as they come out of a cinema. Reading their testimony, it becomes increasingly apparent that the murderer is bigger than all of them. Bigger than all of us put together.
‘One of the best books of poetry I’ve read this year is Maria Stadnicka’s extraordinarily vivid collection, Somnia.’ (Ian Seed, writer and academic, author of New York Hotel, a TSL Book of the Year)
‘First and foremost, this is a wonderful collection: every poem is an evocative and moving vignette of personal/persona observation at its most poignant as well as uncertain. As readers we cross over surprises to arrive at others – the spaces between are landscapes of everywhere we have and haven’t been, transient like some memories, and as fixed as recurring dreams. […]
As an entity – the poems so often reveal their menace in pervasive rather than direct ways. They work in partnership by a different kind of sharing: obviously, the poetic which is the richly imaginative connections across and within the poems [the superb impact of all], and then there are the forces beyond individual control where our lives are determined by a common dissembling of what we thought was free-will and personal, decisive experience – and this is what we consistently read in them.
Somnia is consistently alluring and enigmatic in its poetic voice. What compels isn’t just the draw into many mysteries, but also Stadnicka’s calm creativity in conveying, for example, the horrors and/or abstractions of these – her poetic voice completely comfortable in its suggestiveness: inventive, provoking, highly visual.’ (Mike Ferguson, International Times, September 2019)
‘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. […] What concerns Maria Stadnicka? 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 poems create a sense of urgency and mystery. The only escape from the imposed absolute of non-being is resolution to go forward irrationally free.’ (Andrea Morehead, about The Unmoving)
Somnia is available here: Knives, Forks and Spoons Press.