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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Picket Line

Photography: @JStadnicki 2018

I wanna protest

against Trump but mama says

I’ve got eczema,

there’s ironing left

to do,

the lawn, the beds,

bleach,

scrub the stairlift,

move the mouse-trap from A to B

once I’ve finished with that I should

make a start at

boiling jam.

Seventy-quid-train-fare should feed us all

the week after the picket.

I wanna protest

against mama but Trump

turned the noise right up

in my slum we think

earmuffs should do

she has a whole load of washing

my homework needs checking

for subversive context

a neighbour lost a cat and

she’s now on the phone with 111.

I am not heard.

 

@Maria Stadnicka, 2018

The Politics of Inevitability and the Art Education

Photograph: ©JStadnicki, 2018

There is no way one can observe the social transformations within a community and society without resorting to strong political clues in order to understand the sources of those transformations. And clearly, when things go wrong, we blame the politics, the legislators, the government. But when the political sphere moves away from the reality of the working and the middle classes, the laws and the policies have no real impact on the wide majority. The decision-making groups have little will to support change and the economic downturn Britain has been experiencing for over a decade seems to move towards a silent collapse. And nobody appears to take responsibility. The blame placed on the government rules like a shadow, hiding underneath the roots of bad financial decisions, personal greed and managerial incompetence.

Let’s consider the situation the art sector is in at the moment.  The issue came into focus with the news of the devastating fire which, this second time, damaged the Glasgow School of Art beyond repair. There you have £35m down the drain, or rather turned to ashes, and everybody is powerlessly looking at the building asking, with disbelief, ‘how could this be possible’. The fate of the Glasgow School of Art seems, for now at least, sealed by confusion and uncertainty. Who is to blame this time?

Extrapolating the Glasgow tragedy, who is to blame for the uncertain fate of hundreds of art schools across the country slowly but surely decapitated by unachievable targets and percentages? We are looking at another type of devastating fire slowly cooking to ashes the art sector, in general, and the art education, in particular. The drive to achieve the funding targets, the attendance and the achievement rates, the literacy and the numeracy benchmarks. What do they all mean? Certainly, they mean nothing to those involved in the art sector (students, artists, writers, musicians, teachers) but mean everything to those in charge to justify the bureaucracy which supports their livelihoods and to satisfy the pleiades of regulators and inspectors. The focus of this type of education is not the youth’s creativity but to produce a nation of self-absorbed adults ready to slot into whatever social square has been allocated to them as soon as they joined the education system.

And here we face again another type of politics. The ‘politics of inevitability’ as Snyder eloquently describes it, which makes the art education vulnerable and a victim of the constantly expanding globalisation. Since the mid ‘80s, the way we talk about art has fundamentally changed as well as the way the education system works to serve the economy, under the bright colours of neoliberalism.  And, one would say, what is the problem with that? The education and the arts remain the essential social institutions within a healthy society and preserve what we call our ‘decency’. They remain our ‘sane barometer’ if you like, which support the configuration of our future and the values this future will act upon.

I remember a recent conversation I had with a head of school who recognised that things have taken a turn for the worse, with the Brexit uncertainty looming, but, as he said, ‘what can one do against a whole government, with a mortgage to pay?’ And here we are again in the blaming game equation. The well-suited head back in his leather chair, the young artist back revising for another maths test. New financial cuts are drowning the hope of an economic recovery and the silence of those suffering its effects sounds more and more like a resigned agreement. Not once we feel that the history allows us to see patterns and to understand that action is a possibility. History permits us, ‘to be responsible; not for everything, but for something’ as the poet Czeslaw Milosz said. This responsibility has always worked against loneliness and indifference.

©Maria Stadnicka, June 2018, Gloucestershire, UK

 

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

Landscape

Photograph ©John Stadnicki

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another midnight storm washes away the cold poetry
born at the top floor.
I balance my whole weight
on long words;
frozen stones on my tongue.

I count the mistakes god has done with me,
just to pass the time.

The violent rain hid a blind dog
inside my very bone.
Here, upstairs, both of us in the same body,
awake and hungry,
listen.

 

©Maria Stadnicka, MMXVII

published in ‘Stride’ magazine, available here

Movement

Photograph ©John Stadnicki 2017

 

If we want the world to move forward,

we must hold hands. Documenting the pain and the joy,

on the same page,

with water, with fire, with ashes

not with ink.

 

Freedom means nothing when the healthy and the sick

eat at separate tables.

Even the trees sit together. They know that life is actually simple.

But once people renounced their entitlement,

it will take more than a revolution

to reclaim such a right.

 

For too long we took the wrong turn.

 

What kind of world is this if

the madman tells us that

we should be ashamed of ourselves?

©Maria Stadnicka, 2017

 

Published today in International Times with illustration produced by Nick Victor.

‘Plastic’ politics. In ‘International Times’

http://internationaltimes.it/plastic-2/

Illustration by Nick Victor copyright Published in International Times

The local MP came to visit today.
He played with his tie, in the half-empty boiling hot classroom.
Nobody offered him water.
He looked outside at the summery fog and
chewed his nails for an hour or so.
I tried to think of a question.
But all of them were already answered.
He paused and smiled at the camera.
I had a name badge around my neck.
He had nothing.
I sat on a tree-legged small plastic chair.
He sat on a piece of cake.