Laureateship – Champagne Taste but Beer Money

Marx Reichlich (c.1485–1520) ‘The Jester’ ©Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery

For over two days now, this business with who is going to be the next Poet Laureate has been in my mind. The matter is slowly gathering momentum. The search for a new ‘Nation’s Poet’ is about to start at the end of this week. Social and mainstream media are already speculating possible candidates and appointments. What used to be a process surrounded by secrecy, appears to currently aim for better transparency and diversity. Three days ago, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media&Sport with the Department of Education launched an expert panel to advise on the selection of the next Poet Laureate.

15 experts from all over the U.K. will be working for six months to identify the best poet the country has to offer and suited for such honours. One assumes that a governmental announcement means money; travel, accommodation bills, meals, drinks, commissions paid. Realistically, the named experts haven’t temporarily left their current jobs just to sit in a hotel for six months and debate  without even be paid. This is the case when a pope is elected, for instance, and even in such circumstances it usually doesn’t take longer than a few weeks. [Though, one must recognise, the longest papal conclave took over two years. In the 13thcentury. One assumes that modern times, with the benefit of instant and simultaneous communication, have made the selection much easier. It is the era when everybody knows everything about everybody else.]

The tax payer will gladly fund this laureateship race as the government was clever at publicising, with news of the new panel, the relaunch of the National Poetry Competition in schools. [September next year though.] Parents are, probably, enthused by this and temporarily willing to overlook the black cloud looming over the British arts sector with Brexit ahead. They would have long forgotten 7% budget cuts in the arts sector implemented in 2013. Only a week ago, the government announced a slight increase in budget spending for arts, though it does not reach over 5%.

Anyone noticed the arts are still in deficit, with some museums, libraries, theatres, cinemas in a desolate financial situation?

Six months expenses for 15 experts could save a community library, a cinema, an independent publisher, an old press, a centre for youth; could create poetry bursaries. And the list could go on and on.

And what is all this for? Five thousand pounds a year and a barrel of sherry, for the privileges that come with these? Or is it just for giving the country the sense of ‘normality’ back? For the ‘glamour’? At least one of the favourites, poet Benjamin Zephaniah, has made his position clear this morning, ruling himself out of taking the title.

This development brings yet another question into focus. A question about the relevance of a ‘poet laureate’ as a cultural institution driven by bureaucracy, promoted by bureaucracy and privilege, out of touch with our times and defined by an identity crisis. To add a bit of context, it is worth mentioning that there are  just a few countries which still have a poet laureate. Among them are USA, Canada, Germany, Serbia, India, Turkey, Somalia, Nigeria, Iran and North Korea. The number is even smaller when we consider the countries which allow a prime minister to get involved.

And, finally, if this is about the ‘nation’s poet’ as the government says, has anybody asked the nation? Maybe this appointment, more than others, should be done by referendum, considering we have become experts at this too.

©Maria Stadnicka, 2018

 

Further reading:

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-starts-selection-process-for-next-poet-laureate

https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2018/oct/12/brexit-is-black-cloud-for-uk-arts-says-nicholas-hytner-national-theatre

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-23060049

https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/news/poet-laureate-2018-benjamin-zephaniah-shortlist-announcement-when-carol-ann-duffy-a8619896.html

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Hollow Wean

 

Dear Sir,

a beauty company sent me an email,

‘We win, you win’ it said, invited me

to purchase youth serum at half price.

There is something I hate about emails

sitting black on white on screen:

comma after verb easily mistaken for

philosophical pause or breath taken

when reading poems aloud.

‘Please, do not reply’

it carried on ‘we hope to see you again.’

I have a hundred things to do but

rush to the bathroom to see how deep

the line cutting my glabellar region

has grown since I last checked.

A fair amount I notice. Others joined

the frontal network, showing people

how much I’ve won in forty years

of living too small, dreaming too big.

 

©Maria Stadnicka, 2018

 

The Burden of an Exit Strategy

image

The confusing scandal around Cambridge Analytica and the misuse of personal data have stirred a wide search for a coping strategy post Facebook, once the campaign #Delete started to gather momentum. Over fifty million people have become victims of an algorithm and the finger points in both directions. It points at the corporation and the guilty pact between the rich and the political class to maintain ‘the distribution of wealth’ (Chomsky). And it points at the victims too, as they gave into temptation and filled in the vilified personality test, the intelligence test, the ‘what Disney character are you’ test or ‘is the dress white or gold’ test. And the list could include other hundreds of tests and surveys which were strategically used to collect data and profile the population.

But why did people take the online tests in the first place? Was it out of curiosity, boredom, self-absorption, confusion, insecurity? Possibly, but not exhaustively, being constantly overfed information, the individual, the person behind the computer screen, started to lose the sense of identity and the fear of rejection kept on creeping in. A sign of an increasing collective anxiety.

The need for constant external validation could be a symptom of what de Botton calls ‘status anxiety’. But this is not, by far, a new philosophical discovery. In 1929, Bernays used collective anxiety in his campaign ‘Torches of Freedom’ and successfully convinced women to start smoking cigarettes. One can only see that psychological profiling started a long time ago, when Sigmund Freud clarified the notion of a dark, unconscious self. It comes as no surprise now that among my friends without online social presence there is a sense of ‘told you so’ vindication, whilst the rest is struggling to find a way out.

On a tweet published yesterday by a friend I read a stark and final confession: ‘took a while to decide, but happy I finally cleansed myself. After 11 years I am off…forever.’ But have they actually managed to escape with such ease? Is ‘deleting’ as simple as ‘liking’ or ‘accepting’ the terms and conditions of a virtual contract? There are two immediate identifiable issues here.

The first is that the Facebook license does not end upon the deactivation of your account. The content will only be released from license when all the other users (family, friends, acquaintances, nobodies) have also broken their ties with it. Online freedom will come only after successful negotiations with thousands of friends one gathered during a decade of social media use. The second issue is that Twitter, the online space the online user migrated towards, has a more insidious ‘rights’ clauses. In accepting the terms and conditions, they granted the platform editing rights. Which means the right to edit, modify, translate and format any content posted on the platform. And this can be highly problematic when the content is translated to other languages.

The society’s architecture has dramatically changed to redefine the concept of freedom within the limits of an acceptable platform. It is now symptomatic that ‘deleting’ is a form of virtual social rejection, which leads to real constrains in terms of access to information. But, a while ago, this free access used to be a fundamental attribute of a healthy democracy.

‘The concept of liberty and individual choice are nothing but a mirage’ notes an online user on Twitter who admits that ‘today, Facebook deleted my account because I did use the title DeleteFacebook in one of my paintings’ (TArt). The elite culture is openly biting back displaying the fangs of bigotry ‘as it pretends there is no other alternative’ (Berger).
What facets do we need to explore now in order to redesign our ‘spectre of hope’?

Maria Stadnicka, 1st April 2018

Takeaway

Photography: ©International Times, 2018

(to Aidan Semmens)

Hello. I am a feature
on a CCTV camera, with
private resonance. At
the top floor, I
can barely sleep for the sound of gunfire.
I hear the poetry when I order a pizza.

Still there, are you?
…‘yeah, […published in ‘International Times’ to read click] here

Uranium Bullets

I always arrive late for everything.

Stuck in a traffic jam by the docks,

missed Noah’s boat but

survived under water

accidentally trapped between stolen books,

trapped by a word heavier than a stone,

lighter than a feather.

 

Hidden in the overcrowded wooden train carriage,

radicalised by the anonymity of my blue name-tag,

with a heart growing outside my body.

Each beat painfully visible to the guards

around the Monopoly table.

 

On the waiting list for ballet lessons,

radicalised by the price of uranium bullets on Mother’s Day

handwriting an apologetic note.

My deep eye silenced.

The familiar solemnity of a world without a face.

Photograph: @John Stadnicki, Bristol MMXVI