The History’s Dog

‘Man bites dog’ is the first principle learnt at uni. Thought I could never fully picture the concept, I always imagined the breed of dog which would make man resort to such extreme behaviour. Despite its metaphoric connotation, ‘man vs dog’ has proven to be a successful broadcasting formula for decades. With time, the ‘dog’ matters less and other realities take its place.

News moves with fluidity on the axis entertainment – truth value. It becomes irrelevant that the closer to entertainment, the further we slide away from reality. Whilst audiences are locked in a labyrinth of breaking news and data, most people have little time to investigate what goes on in the real world. It is not surprising that among the most googled questions one finds what time is it?, is it going to rain today?, how can I make money? or what is my name?. Who has the luxury to look beyond? We trust that journalists have it, and they should take the responsibility upon themselves to bring forward the missing parts of our world. And they do.

© Committee to Protect Journalists, 2019.

Without their work, I wouldn’t have known that, between 1997-2006, 378 journalists were killed doing their job. I wouldn’t have known that Wikileaks was already one year old in 2007, three months had passed since Anna Politovskaya’s murder, a new diplomatic row started between London and Moscow (over Britain’s bid for extradition of Andrei Lugovoi, an ex-KGB agent accused of Litvinenko’s murder), that Russia suspended participation in the 1990 Conventional Armed Forces Treaty in Europe (a treaty that limits the deployment of heavy military equipment across Europe.)

I wouldn’t have remembered that the EU expanded with two more states, Romania and Bulgaria, Barack Obama was in full presidential campaign and Gordon Brown moved from 11 to 10 Downing Street. 2007, a few months till the Lehman Brothers Bankruptcy, which triggered global recession. The Doomsday Clock was moved to five minutes to midnight in response to North Korean renewed nuclear ambitions and tests. The War in Afghanistan and the Iraq War, in full swing.

These are facts from a distant past now. History. It is already history that 612 journalists were killed doing their job, between 2007-2016. Almost double than the previous decade. History too, last week’s sigh of relief watching Notre-Dame being saved by a near-miracle. In the meantime, history added a new name to statistics: Lyra McKee.

©Maria Stadnicka, 2019

Published in International Times on 27/04/2019.

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, the poet Benjamin Zephaniah, 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 the government 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