Vertical Takeoff

On 1st October 1972, having just left the Soviet Union, Joseph Brodsky wrote in New York Times a five-thousand words article in which he condemned the political climate in Europe, and worldwide, evaluating its dangerous principles and hunger for domination and destruction. Brodsky expressed his scepticism in reference to all ‘political movements’ which he described as ‘structured methods used to avoid personal responsibility.’

Brodsky defended his belief in a different, and superior, system built on ‘personal movements – movements of the soul when a man who looks at himself is so ashamed that he tries to make some sort of change.’ The article, translated from Russian by Carl Proffer, appeared tangled, verbose and aimless; it sounded like so many other disoriented voices coming from dissidents and defectors of the era, but those who managed to read it in full recognised its unswerving accuracy in describing a failing world system.

Seamus Heaney called it a moment of literary ‘vertical takeoff’, crucial in establishing the capacity of language to go farther and faster than expected and thereby provide an escape from the limitations and preoccupations of the self.

It was, in itself, a warning signal that politics became a psychological danger for humanity, as it engaged people in external fights with the Evil, which automatically made them begin to identify themselves with the Good. And when mankind begins to consider itself bearer of Good, it slides into self-congratulation. This is a state of complacency which Brodsky, who was stateless in 1972, saw it as the source of everything that was radically bad about people.

Brodsky carefully re-considers the role of a united writing community which is vital in opposing official points of view and which should support ‘personal movements’ by engaging with our society in real exercises of reflection and learning. This engagement, however, is built on access to books, not articles about books; direct contact with ideas, not ‘pre-packed’ blurbs.

The latest PN Review editorial comments on the closure of nearly 800 British libraries over the past ten years. The Trump era defines how we conduct literature not only politics. ‘The triumph of the tweet’ reduced our engagement with books to a suite of emoticons, in which the responsibility for personal engagement with ideas is a constant forward-re-tweet and a sum of likes. Bring me someone who sits down to read a five-thousand words article in New York Times, and I’ll be either their friend or follower.

Brodsky, J. (1972) ‘A writer is a lonely traveler’. In: New York Times, 1st October 1972. Available here.

Brodsky, J. (1997) On Grief and Reason. Essays. London: Penguin Books.

PNR, January-February 2020, Vol. 46, No.3.

© Maria Stadnicka 2020

Particulars

I went out to town and took pictures
of people in queue at the shopping mall.
A third of them had been there since Friday;
pilgrims waiting for new prayer beads.

They sat on the pavement holding
their thoughts in tightly zipped handbags.
The sun kept quiet in one corner watching
the autumn busking outdoors
when a beggar stopped, asking everyone
for directions to the nearest abattoir.

Nobody knew precisely where the roads led
but smiled back at him
through the surveillance cameras.

©Maria Stadnicka, 2019

Published in Litter magazine, 22/02/2019.

Measurements

 

Photograph: ©John Stadnicki, Calais, August 2017

In Calais. Two years have passed since my visit to the ‘Jungle’ camp. Now demolished. Without migrants. And I get to measure time in a different way. Not as a linear construct or development or progress. In such matters, ‘time’ is not an objective concept. Time is measured in memories, stories which have been told and then forgotten, wasted. In Western political terminology, time is the dissociation from tragedy combined with the hopeless expectation of a historic healing. It is anonymous, evanescent. And so are thousands, millions across Europe and beyond.

Photograph: ©John Stadnicki, Calais, August 2017

In Other Words, Freedom

The fatal morning Europe woke up and thought it had something to say,

there was nobody else left in the world able to listen.

Oh, earth, the bones had gathered to queue for bread,

by the front door at Saint Joseph seminary.

 

An ordinary day for ordinary death.

The bakery opened and closed.

The workers arrived on time for a last shift then went home.

The ovens had no traces of grain.

 

The ink stained hope filled up rusty water pipes.

The crowds’ whisper went on, up the hill, out of the city.

 

After that, freedom meant nothing.

It all came down to

who could hold the front running place the longest.

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Games During the Cold War

The winter Clara and I secretly discovered socialism

we had nothing left in the house

that was worth burning.

 

The frost surrounded the bedroom,

we talked to keep warm

and I suggested to write on the walls.

 

We used the kitchen knife to sharpen crayons

and kept at it for a couple of hours.

‘All western countries, enemies of the people!

Kill the foreigners!

Kill Ronald Reagan!’

I thought Ro-nald was such a bad name

for a man who never wrote children books,

probably he deserved to die.

 

My spelling was not very good at that age,

so the room filled with rainbows instead.

Clara and I laughed.

 

At that point, we felt hungry and I remembered

mother kept the bible covered with cloth

on top of the fridge

so I lifted the shiny red cover, sliced it in very small pieces

and added water and salt.

The feast carried on for a bit.

 

Clara and I chewed with determination several chapters.

We almost got half way through

when I read: ‘Then there shall be a time of trouble …for

every one that shall be found written in the book.’

 

And then, in the middle of our small apartment,

the game stopped.

I went back to the wall

and changed the words around.

‘Ro-land, orphan but free’.

piazza-del-duomo-milano-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photograph: @John Stadnicki, ‘Piazza’, 2016