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Steve Spence

"The Unmoving" by Maria Stadnicka, pub. Broken Sleep Books. 32 pages

There’s a lot going on in these poems. I’m not sure whether English is Maria Stadnicka’s second or third language (her country of origin is Romania) but what she accomplishes in these mainly minimalist texts is something quite special. There’s an underlying sense of ‘exile’ which permeates the whole collection and a quality of empathy with suffering, particularly related to those who are alienated within an environment, for whatever reasons. Her mixing of narrative snippets (the syntax and grammar are straightforward) with experimental jousts and fragmentary dislocation are central tenets here, which tend to make the reader focus in on every line and its relation to those around it. There’s certainly a sculptural quality to this writing, a combining of a hint of a lyric voice which is enveloped in a darkly surreal context, or series of contexts. ‘Meaning’ is evasive, suggested and to be ‘worried over’, in the sense that these are not easy poems to assimilate but the difficulty is part of their success and engaging with them is well worth the effort, stimulating, thought-provoking and at times quite shocking. They are not exactly impenetrable but the sense of alienation you may experience in attempting a reading is probably analogous to that of ‘the protagonists’ and the ‘I’ of the narrative voice where it exists. The overall ‘mood’ is one of distance/dislocation and while the images are often direct and full of impact – ‘Back home from the cinema / I stumbled over a man in a pool of blood’ (from ‘Eyewitness 73) – there remains a sort of penumbral ‘out-of-focus’ quality which is quite unnerving.

There’s also a hermetic quality to these poems, in the sense that they mainly work as enclosed texts with an internal logic (or dislogic) which can also refer to ‘the world out there’, though the reader has to do a fair bit of the work, which is as it should be:


          A moon of salt unravels
          the shadow between years,
          unfolding a passage
          grey chapter about mortality.

          I hesitate
          at the beginning of my fist fight.

          I am snowing adult tears.

          Pater Noster, I believe.
          Now, slaughter my name.

The link between ‘moon’, ‘salt’ and ‘snowing’ is beautifully done and the images of conflict/loss, represented by ‘years’, ‘passage’, ‘fist fight’ and ‘tears’ are deeply suggestive. The last two lines are stunning and open up a potential can of worms which we can only guess at or interpret in terms of an individual response. The title indicates the importance of sound and rhythm here and I find myself reading these pieces out loud or ‘in my head’ in order to enhance my understanding of the poems.

The ambiguity of the poem entitled Grande Vitesse (high-speed train/American sculpture, both or neither?) adds to the intrigue of the piece, where again, making connections between the imagery help you find a way in: From ‘a slowly deflating beach ball’ via ‘a dimmer switch’ to ‘a sinking ship’ we come to ‘slips through a tight net of thoughts’, which for the first time suggests a possible way out of the general tendency towards ‘downward movement’. There’s certainly a playful element in this writing which brings some relief from the mainly dark materials of ‘the content’ and the constructions, which mix fragmentation with puzzling suggestions, are beautifully stark. The final lines of this poem – ‘Coming back to earth after a short season / in the chemical universe. / and what a let-down’. – could possibly be a reference to a drug-induced fantasy but who knows? There is certainly a sense of the ‘dark beauty’ of Czeslaw Milosz in this poetry and it’s no surprise to see him referred to in the prefacing quotations. This chapbook is an intriguing introduction to the work of Maria Stadnicka, a name I’m sure we’re going to hear more about in the future.

Copyright © Steve Spence, 2018