© Maria Stadnicka, November 2019.
© Maria Stadnicka, November 2019.
The SHIFT Project started with an art installation created by the young Tasmanian artist Robin Watkins-Davies. It developed in a set of events taking place 12th-16th Oct 2019 at St. Laurence Church, Stroud, which bring together contemporary art, music, dance, exhibitions, workshops, presentations, poetry. It supports young people’s mental health, bringing awareness of the artistic potential of our movement. Further details about SHIFT and the oncoming events here.
Maria Stadnicka, October 2019
Thirty years ago, the fall of the Berlin Wall signalled the final months of the communist regime 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 all the Eastern Block states. This change required new societal structures and new political strategies, in response to the demands of a functioning democratic system. 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 defined the Cold War, the West began the reconfiguration of own strategies, while maintaining scepticism about the viability of the Eastern democracies. However, the European institutions began to change, putting aside old ideological conflicts and replacing them with economic alliances. Europe appeared more united around a common purpose, whilst the East-West divide went underground, driven by economic competition, by cultural misunderstanding and misinterpretation coming from both sides.
Transition is always marked by change, insecurity, doubt, pain, loss, anxiety and conflict. All transitions have similar attributes. Transition is a societal natural process which emerges when a revolution ends. Transition brings probing questions about values, beliefs and principles, forcing a society to find new answers. During this process, a society ends up reconfiguring its own institutions and the symbolic power it attributed to them or to groups of people.
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 the cultural space. In poetry, for instance, this 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.
A dog believes people are dogs as well.
To people, this is of no consequence. Humans
are immune to associations, particularly to
associations with Evil; specially if the root of
their actions is Evil itself.
If a dog keeps running away from home, let
him free. He needs to find where the noise
In canine terms, silence is an instrument for
torturing dogs who are no longer useful to
their masters. If asked, people would deny
knowledge of this.
Despite clocks, dogs measure time in
intervals passed between the end of
punishment and the beginning of wound
healing. Once the skin seals up, people
rewind the clocks.
It takes a lifetime to a dog to become
human, and three weeks to a human to
© Maria Stadnicka, 2019. Published in International Times, 14/09/19.
Watching the British parliamentary debate last night was a painful experience. The political class has proven to be a group asking and answering its own questions, loyal to its own ideology, pushing the societal divide even further. The televised mockery, wave of insults and well-rehearsed propaganda made parents sent their children to bed early. Many would like to forget what has just happened and, maybe, if possible, to erase the whole chapter from history books. Politicians say ‘they are tired’, referring to the general public watching the live broadcast.
There has been much discussion about the fact that ‘people’ are tired of this Brexit issue, and want it resolved. We are led into believing that we are all tired, and that the public irascibility is caused by the unresolved crisis launched by the Brexit referendum. It is worth remembering that the ‘people’ have not, in fact, created this crisis. In 2016, most people minding their own lives and jobs have been made aware of the referendum by politics. This ‘need’ was man-made, the present democratic crisis was politically manufactured.
For this reason, I am not tired to go back to history books and to dig out examples when freedom of speech and social institutions have been silenced by unelected leaders. Yesterday’s proroguing of Parliament has a great significance, as it creates a historic precedent by limiting the actions of an institution created to question and to challenge governmental decisions. In this context, I wonder who is governing the Government now.
I become increasingly aware that our legacy is defined by the fact that we have taken the democratic values and institutions for granted. Democracy does not defend itself. Democracy can be safeguarded by people keeping a close eye on those governing, and by being involved in decisional processes. Democracy can be defended when people’s values and principles are clear and are functioning. When people are willing to easily give up these values and principles, we face political tragedy.
© Maria Stadnicka, September 2019.
© Maria Stadnicka, 2019.
Published in ‘Noon: journal of the short poem’, Tokyo, Issue 15. Available free here.
‘Two unmissable poets – Maria Stadnicka and JoAnne McKay – read from their new book published by The Poets’ Republic Press. This is poetry of superb craft that goes for the jugular in its observation of violence, war, migration and a world that is both familiar and strange.’ (Neil Young, writer and editor)
Friday, September 6th, 7.30pm @ The Waverley, Edinburgh, 3-5 St. Mary’s St., EH1 1TA.
If You Find My Mother, Buy Her Flowers is written with JoAnne McKay, prefaced and edited by Hugh McMillan, designed by Neil Young, published by The Poets’ Republic Press, Scotland.