On both sides of the frontline,
orchards in bloom.
People buy and sell goods,
occupy central squares,
dogs run after barefoot children
with grain baskets – linen flags.
Buses on schedule, taxis in queue.
Business as usual.
Gunshots, grenades, mortars.
Stray barks come out of houses
with blown-up windows. Splinters
rising – morning’s canines.
Soldiers wake up to the call to prayer,
switch radio on, shave by the roadside.
Nametags rest in shoe polish tins,
heat bakes bread already sliced.
Buses carry wounded further inland.
Poem published in Sweat, Ink and Tears, 8th Jan. 2019, available here.
©Maria Stadnicka, 2019
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
I wanna protest
against Trump but mama says
I’ve got eczema,
there’s ironing left
the lawn, the beds,
scrub the stairlift,
move the mouse-trap from A to B
once I’ve finished with that I should
make a start at
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
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 people it represents, 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, in 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?
Extrapolating the Glasgow tragedy, we are looking for someone or something to blame for the uncertain fate of hundreds of art schools across the country, which slowly, but surely, are decapitated by unachievable targets and percentages. This time, we encounter another type of devastating fire, which is 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 supporting their livelihoods; bureaucracy which satisfies the pleiades of regulators and inspectors. The focus of this type of education is not the youth’s creativity; it is to produce a nation of self-absorbed adults, ready to slot into whatever social square is allocated to them as soon as they join 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. One would say, what is the problem with that? There is nothing wrong with expecting profitability, and economic success. There is, though, if the principle on which the profit is based, is wrong.
The education and the arts remain essential social institutions in a healthy society. They create and preserve what we call our ‘decency’. They remain our ‘sane barometer’ if you like, which supports 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?’
Here we are again, in the blaming game equation. The well-suited head is back in his leather chair, the young artist is 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
(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