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, 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 are what time is it?, is it going to rain today?, how can I make money? and 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 was shot dead in front of her flat, 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 between 2007-2016, 612 journalists were killed doing their job. Almost double than the previous decade. History too, last week’s sigh of relief watching Notre-Dame saved by a near-miracle. In the meantime, history added a new name to statistics: Lyra McKee.

©Maria Stadnicka, 2019

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On Euro Vision and the Migration Strategy #Flashnews (part III)

©John Stadnicki, 2019.

In 2012, Theresa Mary May (née Brasier) was just a mere Home Secretary. She was under pressure from David William Donald (née Cameron), who was fighting Nigel Paul (née Farage) on the electoral front, to do something about the migration data. And she had an idea which got her a few brownie points from the PM. ‘Dave, why not produce a hostile environment for undocumented migrants,’ she said, to which the PM responded ‘Well done, Theresita, that’s my girl.’ And, as simple as that, the hostile environment strategy was conceived on a sofa in 10 Downing Street, and later on ended up being implemented.

The strategy is up and running since 2016. The Guardian(ed. 16th Feb. 2019) reports that the Home Office is attempting to embed immigration officers at a rate of almost £60 an hour as part of an ‘enhanced checking service.’ The service is available to public services, including NHS trusts and local authorities, as well as private firms. Over the past two and a half years, Home Office officers have been deployed to test the policy. But the strategy is not just about ‘enhanced checking.’

Institutions and organisations are offered ‘real-time’ access to information about someone’s immigration status as well as ‘on-site immigration official.’ The on-site officer can attend interviews and can encourage undocumented migrants to leave the country voluntarily. There is no public information about the methods used to encourage people to leave but, hopefully, with the media’s pressure, the Home Office will release further details.

I will not explore any further how the public funds are used under the pretext of national security. The governmental misjudgement and funding misplacement are, by now, legendary locally and Europeanly. And the Home Office’s policies seem to fit well a system based on miscommunication and misunderstanding.

There is something more bothersome I came across not very long ago. A few weeks ago, I came to understand that a young British citizen, travelling by train from London to Paris, managed to cross the border without a passport. The UK Border Agency let the young Brit off on the basis that the teenager was travelling as part of the group and had a scanned copy of his passport saved on a laptop. Although getting out of the country was easy, coming back from Paris a few days later created a bit of a problem at the Parisian train station. But the British citizen managed to get back to Britain on his scanned document, whilst the UK Border Agency’s officer warned the eyewitnesses that he would put a complaint against the section of the UK Border Agency which had let the person travel in the first place. Well, who is going to check that such a complaint was actually put forward?

The questions this incident brings forward are numerous. The issue of ‘legality’ in such a case would be the first, followed by the problem with the Home Office’s wasted funds on ‘monitorisation.’ And there are rhetorical points here. What is the point in having passports, if one could just travel without? Would a migrant have been allowed to travel from the UK to Europe and vice-versa without a passport? If I turn up at Heathrow or St. Pancras with just a scanned copy of my passport, will I manage to cross the border without problems? (to be continued)

©Maria Stadnicka, 2019

Published in International Times on 2/3/2019.

Particulars

I went out to town and took pictures
of people in queue at the shopping mall.
A third of them had been there since Friday;
pilgrims waiting for new prayer beads.

They sat on the pavement holding
their thoughts in tightly zipped handbags.
The sun kept quiet in one corner watching
the autumn busking outdoors
when a beggar stopped, asking everyone
for directions to the nearest abattoir.

Nobody knew precisely where the roads led
but smiled back at him
through the surveillance cameras.

©Maria Stadnicka, 2019

Published in Litter magazine, 22/02/2019.

‘Poets with History and Poets without History’ – Polarity in British Contemporary Poetry

In the past decade, cultural theorists formulated the concept of the ‘cultural fragmentation model’ which incorporates the influences of ‘contemporaneous social conditions’ as well as the constant transformations experienced within a society defined by change and competition. In contemporary poetry, the fragmentation model accommodates numerous directions and trends, some situated in a position of tension or conflict with each other. This phenomenon generates a polarised spectrum which has yet to crystallise into a cohesive operant model. Consequently, poetry is at a stage of self-discovery and exploration, whilst witnessing significant transformations with the influence of social and mass media.

The current cultural environment accommodates a wide range of poetic discourses, with many writers preoccupied to articulate their art and to engage with the readership and new audiences. However, the idea of tension or conflict in poetry is not new.

In 1934, Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva published the essay ‘Poets with History and Poets without History’ in which she identifies two opposing categories of poets (and poetry): ‘poets without history’ and ‘poets with history.’ The first category refers to poets preoccupied with self-expression, whilst the second category refers to poets engaged in artistic discovery and literary innovation.

Tsvetaeva’s concept establishes a classic categorisation and polarity which are not without relevance within the contemporary British poetry. The current cultural reality has led to a generation of poets which Anne Stevenson defined in 2000 as being ‘at the mercy of technology and in thrall to the media.’ Furthermore, the new generation of poets is getting better at identifying its own specialist clientele and is exploring intense themes like abuse, misogyny, racism and mental illness.

Editors and poetry promoters observe that the poetry market is booming, as audiences for poetry, as well as poets themselves, are diversifying. Nielsen BookScan reported in 2017 a 66% increase in poetry books sales. Despite this positive development, theorists look at the contemporary poetry with criticism, if not cynicism.

Susan Sontag expresses her scepticism in reference to the contemporary poetry which, in her view, appears to suffer from an ‘uninhibited display of egotism’, thus igniting the need to redefine the concept of poetry as an art form. At the beginning of last year, Rebecca Watts published ‘The Cult of the Noble Amateur’ (PN Review) in which she includes the British poet Hollie McNish in the category of poets viewed as ‘noble amateurs’, preoccupied with self-promotion whilst offering the consumer an ‘instant gratification’. Watts expressed concern about the literary establishment’s readiness to modify the readership’s engagement with poetry. This modification or change implies the acceptance of mass media’s influence on poetry markets and, consequently, on poetry as literary genre.

But going back to the idea of ‘poets with history’/ ‘poets without history’ and the relevance within the current context, Marina Tsvetaeva’s reflections are as fascinating as they are applicable. Tsvetaeva identifies the ‘poets without history’ or ‘poets without development’ those poets consumed by personal expression and lyricism. Furthermore, she believes that such poets have ‘narrow knowledge and they come into world not to learn, but to say and to make themselves known. A poet without history cannot have a striving towards a goal. He himself doesn’t know what the lyric flood will bring him. His poetry has no project.’ (Tsvetaeva, 2010, p.139-140). By contrast, in Tsvetaeva’s vision, ‘poets with history’ are ’like an arrow shot into infinity. They seem to reincarnate in themselves all the days of creation. No more than the tirelessness of the creative will. They don’t have time to turn around to look at themselves, only pressing forward. The loneliness of such walkers!’ (Tsvetaeva, 2010, p.136-139)

The process of ‘looking forward’ implies a continuous drive to innovate and explore new artistic territories. This gives a new dimension to the idea of craft. These poets are not particularly visible on social media and they tend to engage with their readership through their work and public readings. Moreover, they become preoccupied with linguistic nuances and concepts, using language to its full capacity, to surprise and delight the reader over and over again.

Tsvetaeva’s axiom opens the discussion about the type of poetry set to formulate new trajectories in contemporary British culture. This poetry is ‘not necessarily the one which wins competitions in the Irish Times or the New Stateman’, as Seamus Heaney wrote in 1974, but a poetry which defines value systems and reveals new interpretations of the world. Moreover, it is not a detailed ‘self-interview’ but becomes memorable when the writer assumes the responsibility to challenge complacency, and has the courage to experience the transformative power of change.

©Maria Stadnicka, 2019

References:

Sontag, S. (2009) Against Interpretation and Other Essays.London: Penguin Random House.

Stevenson, A. (2000) A Few Words for the New Century. In: Herbert, W.N. and Hollis, M. (eds.) (2015) Strong Words. Modern Poets on Modern Poetry.Hexham: Bloodaxe Books, Pages 181-183.

Tsvetaeva, M. (2010) Art in the Light of Conscience: Eight Essays on Poetry. Hexham: Bloodaxe Books.

Watts, R. (2018) The Cult of the Noble Amateur. PN Review 239. Vol. 44, No. 3. Available from https://www.pnreview.co.uk/cgi-bin/scribe?item_id=10090.

 

Landscape with Buses

 

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

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