Vertical Takeoff

On 1st October 1972, having just left the Soviet Union, Joseph Brodsky wrote in New York Times a five-thousand words article in which he condemned the political climate in Europe, and worldwide, evaluating its dangerous principles and hunger for domination and destruction. Brodsky expressed his scepticism in reference to all ‘political movements’ which he described as ‘structured methods used to avoid personal responsibility.’

Brodsky defended his belief in a different, and superior, system built on ‘personal movements – movements of the soul when a man who looks at himself is so ashamed that he tries to make some sort of change.’ The article, translated from Russian by Carl Proffer, appeared tangled, verbose and aimless; it sounded like so many other disoriented voices coming from dissidents and defectors of the era, but those who managed to read it in full recognised its unswerving accuracy in describing a failing world system.

Seamus Heaney called it a moment of literary ‘vertical takeoff’, crucial in establishing the capacity of language to go farther and faster than expected and thereby provide an escape from the limitations and preoccupations of the self.

It was, in itself, a warning signal that politics became a psychological danger for humanity, as it engaged people in external fights with the Evil, which automatically made them begin to identify themselves with the Good. And when mankind begins to consider itself bearer of Good, it slides into self-congratulation. This is a state of complacency which Brodsky, who was stateless in 1972, saw it as the source of everything that was radically bad about people.

Brodsky carefully re-considers the role of a united writing community which is vital in opposing official points of view and which should support ‘personal movements’ by engaging with our society in real exercises of reflection and learning. This engagement, however, is built on access to books, not articles about books; direct contact with ideas, not ‘pre-packed’ blurbs.

The latest PN Review editorial comments on the closure of nearly 800 British libraries over the past ten years. The Trump era defines how we conduct literature not only politics. ‘The triumph of the tweet’ reduced our engagement with books to a suite of emoticons, in which the responsibility for personal engagement with ideas is a constant forward-re-tweet and a sum of likes. Bring me someone who sits down to read War and Peace or a five-thousand words article in New York Times. I’ll be either their friend or their follower.

© Maria Stadnicka 2020

[‘Vertical Takeoff’ was published in International Times on 25/01/2020.]


Brodsky, J. (1972) ‘A writer is a lonely traveler’. New York Times, 1st October 1972. Available here.

Brodsky, J. (1997) On Grief and Reason. Essays, London: Penguin Books.

PNR, January-February 2020, vol. 46, no.3. Available here.

 

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.

Sonata

 

Violet, by Vasily Kandinsky, 1923, Russian French Expressionist print, lithograph. Geometrical elements, circles, arcs, triangles, straight lines and curves, mix with irregular hand drawn forms in this abstract lithograph (BSLOC_2017_5_148)
1923 / Mary Evans Picture Library

 

 

It starts with a study in curves.

 

Lost in broad daylight, I think

in intimate terms about pencils,

sharpened by a schoolboy

oblivious to Barthes’ empire.

 

Time, the only thing I have not.

 

I shall pray for you she hissed, leaving.

Ashes to ashes I laugh,

turn the machine off, move

closer to anger.

 

Hands, metal, ankles, metal, eye. Metal! Nerves.

 

I practise benign indifference.

 

I learn about human squares and circles,

underline the connective distance

between something lost

and something irreplaceable.

 

© Maria Stadnicka, published at Mary Evans Picture Library.

Bolshoi Rehearsal

Photography: ©JStadnicki, ‘Studio’ 2018

 

53.2. Numbers blink, red dots on scales

show my thighs have grown

by two-hundred grams. I open the window.

Adverts for drama productions hang across skies,

a heavy woman squeezes against glass

to make room for me.

 

For lunch, I swallow crushed ice,

wood shavings, a full glass of tap water;

jump on the treadmill: thirty-eight minutes,

three-point-two miles, three hundred calories.

Lost two-hundred grams.

 

A neighbour rings, invites me to dinner

saying the man living at number four died

hit by a bus on the way to the gym.

He was 73 kilos. I am 53.

 

I stop eating protein, google public transport

routes, pick-up times for stones-pounds.

Every day at 9:45, a stout driver reminds passengers:

‘No hot food at the back. Only light snacks.’

 

Indoors. Drawing jogging maps

on steaming shower curtains.

Shampoo waves on my striped ribcage.

Sea splashes away in the bathroom.

Sand grains hide in my shoe.

 

©Maria Stadnicka, 2018

The Pink Chernobyl

‘Poetry at Pembroke’ is a series of poetry readings organised by Peter King, lecturer in philosophy at Pembroke College. The beautiful grounds bring together a wide range of national and international poets, readers, critics, musicians, students, on Mondays at 6pm.

With great joy and enthusiasm, I will be performing at Pembroke on Monday 19th February, at 6pm with the composer Janet Davey.

Janet Davey and Peter J. King performing at Pembroke College, 2017.

Janet and I have a few things in common. Radio broadcasting. Both involved in news. Janet worked for the BBC World Service, I worked for Radio Europa Nova and then for Radio Hit Romania. We share the love for music, for poetry and for sound. And we share a common memory. The Chernobyl accident 26th April 1986. I was eight years old and went to a nearby gymnasium school. 26th April 1986 was a Saturday. In those days, we went to school six days a week and, on Sundays, we had homework. There was nothing else for us children to do. We had no television during communism, there were no magazines and we had only two newspapers. I had started to write poetry by that time; write on old notebooks, on my mother’s factory coupons, on food wrapping paper. We had no books at home, so I wrote to have something to read in the evenings.

Once a month after that Saturday, the school’s paediatrician would come to deliver our iodine tablets quota. We had to swallow one every day for almost a year. We kept breathing and eating and learning and sleeping and growing, not knowing why the iodine was good for us. The boys mostly played with the sweetish small tablets or used them as crayons. I was a short-haired nervous girl. Shy and small for my age, and I think I took them all, with precision. Or maybe for fear of being publicly reprimanded during political propaganda lessons we had on Wednesdays.

Around the same time, Janet was in London producing a live telephone programme, with Sue MacGregor between London and Moscow for BBC World Service and BBC R4. Jan noticed on the “wires” a cloud over Finland and more. The interviewee, set up by Jan, was Georgi Arbatov, Soviet spokesperson. He was asked about this cloud……and told the world. The rest is history.

These two journeys met 31 years later. The composer Janet Davey and I will be performing at ‘Poetry in the Pink’. I will be reading from my collection ‘Imperfect’ published by Yew Tree Press (Philip Rush) and the forthcoming book ‘Uranium Bullets’, with original piano music and orchestration produced by Janet Davey’s grace.

Thank you, Peter King for your brilliance in promoting poetry and thank you, Janet Davey for your superb music.

The event takes place at Mary Hyde Eccles Room, Pembroke College, OX1 1DW.
Monday, 19 February 2018, at 6pm. 
Free entry and books available!