Photography: ©JStadnicki, 2018
Photography: ©JStadnicki, 2018
‘The Unmoving is a dark and delicious exploration of post war landscape.
Maria Stadnicka’s beautifully crafted lines cut like a knife,
her poems come to the page like water from a deep well, only the well has been poisoned. Masterfully succinct and shrouded in Stadnicka’s trademark sense of mystery,
The Unmoving is as vivid a poetry chapbook as you’re ever likely to read.’ (Broken Sleep Books, 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
‘It is unfortunately hard to recall our quasi-permanent concern with the future, for on our return from a place, perhaps the first thing to disappear from memory is just how much of the past we spent dwelling on what was to come; how much of it, that is, we spent somewhere other than where we were.’ (de Botton, 2002)
Photography: ©John Stadnicki, 2018
‘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 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.