A bit of local history. Lewis & Hole started melting iron in 1946, immediately after the Second World War. Many people from Stroud remember the building, which used to be the centre of Dudbridge area of Stroud.
This is a set of images taken by photographer John Stadnicki in 1993, a few years before the foundry was closed down, following redevelopments in the late 1990s. Although the work conditions were as close to Dante’s Inferno as you can imagine, people were proud of their contribution to the local industry.
Photography: © John Stadnicki, 1993.
The other day, during an afternoon nap,
a tramp came to my door with a letter
for the man in apartment three, ground floor.
The knock made me jump, then I thought
I could give out some change in return,
but the beggar refused; he was holding
a bunch of keys and left saying ‘till tomorrow.’
When I opened the envelope, lying flat
in my bunk, a pair of handcuffs and
steel neck chains dropped on my chest.
© Maria Stadnicka, 2019
Poem published in Osiris, U.S., Vol. 88, July 2019.
The American poet Layli Long Soldier’s debut collection Whereas was initially published in 2017 by Graywolf Press, Minneapolis. It was awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award, and it was a finalist for the 2017 National Book Award for Poetry. A year later, it received the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award and the 2018 Griffin Poetry Prize.
Published in the UK by Picador, the collection is a response to the Congressional resolution of apology to Native Americans, which President Obama signed in obscurity in 2009. There were no Native Americans present to receive the apology, as most never knew an apology was made. In an introduction to the title poem, Long Soldier admits that the book was written as a ‘response directed to the apology’s delivery, as well as the language, crafting and arrangement of the written document’ (p.57).
Whereas is built on poetics which refuses the boundaries of reading a racial identity. At the same time, it challenges the making of a nation by transforming the page to withstand the tension of an occupied body, country and, more specifically, an occupied language. Indigenous languages are an integral part of the American lexicon though their systematic silencing continues today.
‘Rocking, in this country of so many languages where national surveys assert that Native languages are dying. Child-speakers and elder-teachers dwindle, this is public information. But her father and I don’t teach in statistics, in this dying I mean. Whereas speaking, itself, is defiance.’ [from ‘Whereas Statements’, p.75]
Whereas includes the acknowledgment of writing as a visual act in forms that take on physical boundaries like footnotes, brackets and stitching, disrupted prose blocks. The poems are shaped or fragmented like grass blades or hammer, or boxes.
Welch guides me
his angle a marginal
slope corner arrange
[from ‘Part I. These Being the Concerns’, p.17]
Long Soldier constantly reminds readers of their physical and linguistic bodies, whilst she builds the poems as fields, or people. This is an unsettling collection which questions English syntax and grammar, disrupting the language at its deepest levels of symbolic representations and meaning. What made me read the book over and over again is the sense of linguistic protest of an artist facing a weaponised American cultural system. As a result, Long Soldier turns the language into a weapon which unearths a deep sense of identity loss, subtly going on under our eyes but unnoticed and unspoken about.
‘WHEREAS I heard a noise I thought was a sneeze. At the breakfast table pushing eggs around my plate I wondered if he liked my cooking, thought about what to talk about. […] There at the breakfast table as an adult I looked up to see he hadn’t sneezed, he was crying. I’d never heard him cry, didn’t recognise the symptoms.’ [from ‘Whereas Statements’, p.65]
Long Soldier is usually referred to first as a Lakota or Oglala Sioux poet, then a concrete or experimental poet. However, her poetry navigates further ahead, excavating, as The New York Times acknowledges in 2017 ‘the language of occupation.’ It also defines a new concept of language created for our own personal narratives. A language which knows no boundaries and restrictions, as our own narratives or pains, know no boundaries and limits. Whereas is an exceptional example of poetry which brings one, face to face, with the possibility of courage in writing. I am now back to reading it. For the fifth time.
©Maria Stadnicka, 2019
Review published in Stride Magazine, 24 June 2019.
If my dentist wasn’t a dentist, he would have been a political analyst. Or maybe he is, in his spare time. I must ask him at my next check-up. My experience of ‘butchery dentistry’ during the Soviet Era makes me plan the trips to Alex’s practice to the finest detail. So much so that I’m already an hour early, hoping to have made a mistake and hear Jenny saying your appointment was yesterday, but she offers me tea instead. A patient asks whether we should be waiting for fresh scones too, and the room bursts into laughter.
I never thought people could laugh at the dentist, but there we go. I laugh too, when the door opens and Alex shows me in. Any news, he asks. I think about my 42 mobile news alerts screaming from the back pocket. It’s only midday. I barely slept these past four days, waiting for a catastrophic British exit, worrying about knife crime, thinking that my next-door neighbour could be a serial killer for what I know, as he always looks cheerful when I walk past his garden. This exact scenario featured in a three-part documentary I watched back to back last week. I am sure I have an undetected disease. The scientist who presented the last episode of Horizon made me believe that I’m so ill, I started monitoring my dog for behavioural changes.
Any news, then? As I struggle to answer with an open mouth, I mutter No, though I want to confess my addiction to technology when he takes his phone out and says I wish there were no news. Like in 1930.
Alex reminds me of the ideal news bulletin, on 18thApril 1930 when the BBC news presenter had nothing to communicate to the nation. His script of the 8: 45pm bulletin was: There is no news, followed by 15-minute piano music.
My gums look healthy, while the D-Day celebrations are in full swing on TV.
© Maria Stadnicka, 2019
Published in International Times, 22nd June 2019.
The Country Between Us firstly appeared in 1981, published in the US by Harper & Row, at a time when the conflict in El Salvador had finally forced its way into public awareness. At the time of publication, The Iowa Review placed the collection among the most notable books of a young poet in recent years. The book received the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay di Castagnola Award and it was the Lamont Poetry Selection of the Academy of American Poets. The collection has been reissued this spring in the UK, by Bloodaxe Books.
Structured in three parts, ‘In Salvador, 1978-80’, ‘Reunion’ and ‘Ourselves or Nothing’, The Country Between Us explores the socio-cultural devastation of a country ripped apart by civil war. Although Carolyn Forché worked as a journalist and investigator for Amnesty International, and was closely involved with the political struggle in El Salvador, her poems are personal, immediate, and moving. The collection resists the temptation to sensationalise, and responds to Wittgenstein’s definition of poetic relevance through a masterful use of a language of information which does not, however, give information:
If we go on, we might stop
in the street in the very place
where someone disappeared
and the words Come with us! we might
hear them. If that happened, we would
lead our lives with our hands
[from ‘San Onofre, California’]
The horrors of war Forché relates are referenced with subtlety and control of the language. In the poem ‘The Visitor’ she only suggests the cruelty of a civil war, in which ‘There is nothing one man would not do to another’ (p.17), whilst in ‘Message’ she alludes to the war’s impact on people struggling to establish a sense of normality:
Margarita, you slip from your house
with plastiques wrapped in newsprint,
the dossier of your dearest friend
whose hair grew to the floor of her cell.
Leonel, you load your bare few guns
with an idea for a water pump and
Forché builds her lyrical power through subjective connections established between herself and the events unravelling in front of her eyes. History becomes therefore meaningful and relevant to readers, who construct references and personal connections. Her directness brings in focus César Vallejo’s poetics, as well as Pablo Neruda’s and Miklós Radnóti’s, through her ability to correlate cultures and transcend times:
When we listen
we hear something taking place
in the past. When I talk to her
I know what I will be saying
twenty years from now.
[from ‘The Island’]
Perhaps one of the greatest achievements of Forché’s The Country Between Usemerges from her ability to confront politics and history, beyond their national and cultural boundaries. It reaches out to a readership who might not ordinarily read poetry. The strength of the collection is underlined by the honesty in exposing human suffering. It is done with sensitivity, maturity and without condescendence. A collection which opens a wider range of questions about the meaning of history:
It is either the beginning or the end
of the world, and the choice is ourselves
©Maria Stadnicka, 2019
Published in Stride Magazine, 29 May 2019.