Still stroppy after all these years...Siren feminist band, reformed with 2 daughters playing in Brighton daughters

Still stroppy after all these years…Siren feminist lesbian 1980’s band, reformed with 2 daughters playing in Brighton



Eleanor Barrett gave my father English lessons and I was sent to her small, cottage like house to stay for tea after school and sleep over – to improve my English and maybe to give my mother a break, or both. She had silver hair and blue eyes, was a widow and if I was sometimes bored it was because she was an elderly grown up and all I wanted then was to be outdoors playing with other children. But she had an open coal fire which was wonderful and she grated cheese and made me strangely named things like ‘Welsh rarebit’. She was a Quaker and her husband had been a conscientious objector in the war. Pacifism was a startling concept for someone like me who had grown up in a family where armed resistance to fascism was a given. Even my parents who were very much ‘you’re either with us or against us’ people respectfully agreed to disagree with her. I am writing about her now for 2 reasons: first, because there can never be enough written in praise of older women. But secondly because England has just voted 52 percent against 48 to leave Europe after a campaign of xenophobia and racism. Within days incidents of racism have soared, such as graffiti on the Polish Cultural Centre (which we visited when I was a child and where I have worked teaching creative writing as an adult, done readings and where my play was performed)  or school children and their families being told ‘Go home Polish scum’. Homeless people have been marking their cardboard signs ‘English and Homeless’ for fear of being attacked as migrants.

What has been heartwarming are the messages of support I have personally received and the amazing responses publicly telling me and others like me that we belong, are welcome here.

English roses my Polish mother loved so much

English roses my Polish mother loved 

One of the things English friends are saying is how ashamed they now feel being English/British. So to all of them/you, don’t be ashamed! Think of the best in your culture, history. Invoke it now. Remember everyone who has ever resisted the colonialist/racist mind set and behaviour. We badly need those role models at this time. I wish I had a picture of Mrs. Barrett, as I called her, to show you. Let’s replace all the media images of the men in power who have lied and led the country into this vicious and hideous mess with images of good and ordinary folk. If Mrs. Barrett was still alive we might be disagreeing about all sorts of things but I imagine she’d be opening her door and helping Syrian refugees as she once helped Polish ones.


13512027_10153907518773401_286957910405027_nI’m a poet. I ‘m trying to write a poem about the sea for the lovely Beautiful Dragons Not A Drop project. I wanted this blog to be about writing. I’m also a Pole, by birth and heritage. I have always felt a European. After 2 world wars, the war in Ireland and then the war in what was Yugoslavia it’s so obvious to me what Europe needs is to build even more closeness within itself while at the same time reaching out to other continents, cultures around the world, working together to help refugees who have lost so much, working together for civil liberties, for equality, for a sustainable, healthy environment .

This morning the results of the U.K referendum came in with a shocking (albeit narrow) majority wanting to leave Europe. I say Europe because I don’t for a second believe the vote was about the merits or defects of EU institutions. Will those on the Left or feminists who naively thought they were voting against a capitalist or patriarchal club now realise who they have jumped into bed with? As for those who voted to leave in order to curb immigration I have never known what to say to them. They never wanted the likes of me to enter Britain in the first place. They have conveniently been offered an Other to blame and jumped at that offer. Without Johnny Foreigner everything will be all right.

Today I can’t sit still, can’t concentrate on anything. Walking to the shops from work I wanted to stop everyone I passed & say have you heard? How can you just carry on as normal? Two men behind me were saying to each other: we could move to Scotland… The exercise of the referendum has back-fired on the Tory Prime Minister who has resigned today. David Cameron should have read his history books. In the 1930’s the German Right believed they could use and manage Hitler.  Before long he had outmanoevered, over-powered or simply got rid of them.We already know Cameron’s successor will be even worse than he was. This referendum campaign to leave Europe was conducted by stirring up xenophobia and racism – perhaps these forces were never that far below the surface. That’s what’s so frightening and upsetting. Now they have been given a green light.

In this climate the Labour M.P Jo Cox was murdered last week by a man reportedly shouting ‘Britain First!’ who has alleged links to white supremacist groups and in court called himself : ‘death to traitors, freedom for Britain’ . Her husband urged people to fight ‘the hate that killed her’. I can’t imagine what he and her family are going through.

13497858_10154493451523646_7489450108758851598_oMy phone hasn’t stopped today with everyone I know feeling some version of absolutely gutted. What should we do, as the clocks get turned back further and further, not only in the U.K but elsewhere? I don’t know. Grieve, feel shocked, feel our hearts break, go numb, feel tired? Remember how we were once bullied as children (in my case for being different/Polish) and find ways to heal and feel less helpless as adults now, have parties, paint, build, have sex, sing, dance, swim, grow veg, play ball, play music, paint our toe nails, go for walks, hide under the duvet, sleep, swear, spit, watch TV, turn off the TV, organise, protest, eat ice-cream? Raise money, love each other, hug our kids, hug each other, stick together, let off steam, be angry, get furious, livid, raging, think together, cry our eyes out together, believe in love, in friendship, translate, talk to each other, reach out, read books from other countries, write more poems? In what order? I don’t know. Maybe the order doesn’t matter. But let’s not shrug and say ‘Oh well..’ Let’s not be British about this.

IMG_1170IMG_1181IMG_1183What is happening to the time-space continuum (so fondly referred to in Star Trek)? Last month I was on a pro-choice demonstration in Warsaw. If I told you about all the demonstrations I have ever been on we would be here forever. But these are pictures of the one outside the Sejm (parliament) building, in my birth town where the government have been trying to make all abortion illegal. I listened to the eloquent speakers. Some spoke in fury. Some soberly.  All spoke brilliantly.

One woman talked about a church which covers up the abuse of children in its care and then preaches to women about reproduction. Another woman told us the story of her daughter who’d had to have a termination on health grounds which saved her life and enabled her to go on and have a child later. Professor Monika Płatek said we want abortion to be legal, safe and a rare occurrence. She then went on to outline what is necessary for that to be the case with social conditions and sex education as priorities. She pointed out the dire consequences when the dictator Ceausescu criminalised abortion in Romania. People brought coat hangers to the demo as a symbol of back street abortion.

Below are pictures from 40 years ago in Brighton when women’s rights were threatened by a restricting abortion bill – it didn’t get passed. Not the church, not the state women must decide their fate, we chanted. Our posters showed knitting needles – another backstreet variant which older campaigners then still remembered.

Recently there have been so many and continue to be demonstrations about different issues all over Poland. For a clearer understanding of what is happening there I suggest reading other people, for example like film-maker Wanda Koscia.  Given all the injustice happening world-wide if I write about Poland it’s because I feel connected to it in ways I can’t always explain but which touch the very core of me. Since I visited Warsaw I have been hearing more depressing accounts from friends and family there. About the erosion or outright destruction of democratic institutions and hard won rights civil liberties, including women’s reproductive rights, and about ever increasing racism, anti-semitism, anti-refugee feeling, Islamophobia, homophobia. Yet people are also galvanised. They are meeting up together. Isolation is getting broken down.












I happened to be in Warsaw for a tiny moment, standing at a demo in my birth town thinking back to other demos. For feminists, activists, politically engaged and caring folk it is devastating to see the clocks being turned back whether here or in other countries. Are we in a time warp? I’ve also been sorting through old letters recently and finding letters from older friends and relatives, Polish, Jewish, German, people who lived through World War II writing aghast at war in the Middle East and elsewhere. How can this be happening again, happening still, they ask with bewilderment? Sorrow, bewilderment, anger, despair – these seem accurate responses when clocks are turned back. Is there also hope? There has to be. In Poland there is K.O.D (Committee for the Defence of Democracy) and a new political party called Razem (Together) and countless individuals and organisations fighting back. There is the closeness and exhilaration when people join forces. On the demo I went to there was a friend who is over 80. She clearly has no intention of giving up. But I’ll leave the last word to the young friend I met, a young woman with blue hair who said she’d never been on a demonstration because she’s scared of crowds. But now, she said, she’s more scared of the Polish government. So she went and chanted and made a stand for the first time in her life: GDZIE JEST WASZE CZŁOWIECZEŃSTWO?!




Russia 1924








My mother was ambivalent about International Women’s Day. On the one hand she saw it as a Socialist festival (for someone who had lived through a decade of post-war Stalinism this could only mean BAD.) On the other hand she loved flowers and liked the Polish custom of men giving women flowers on IWD. I have some ambivalence too, which runs more like this: how can 1 day a year be remotely enough to celebrate what we as women do or who we are? On the other hand I like any excuse to party. And celebrating ourselves as women is vital.

Tomorrow at 11am on March 8th 2016 I will be taking part in an International Women’s day online digital discussion with 3 other artists:

Rifa Thorpe-Tracey who is an advocate for women in tech. Amongst many things she is founder of the Brighton branch of global creative networking group for women in digital, SheSays.

Jamila Prowse who is founder and editor of the independent small-print magazine Typical Girls, which showcases the work of female creatives through print, discussions, talks, workshops and music events.

and Jinan Petra who is a campaigner for women’s rights and social justice. She is involved in a number of activist groups, projects and movements that fight to safeguard the rights of women and girls across the UK and beyond.

I am Maria Jastrzębska a Polish-born, Brighton based poet, editor and translator with a particular interest in borders and boundaries: between countries, cultures, languages, between social and sexual identities, health and illness.

This event is hosted by Melissa Ray who works in Communications at Fabrica the innovative art gallery in Brighton.

You can be our live audience from 11am tomorrow by clicking on:

Zapraszam serdecznie/you are warmly welcome!




IMG_9900_2Sometimes I think I am still in the middle of the ocean. Last year my partner and I sailed to New York and back from Southampton. We had so many adventures and the trip affected us both so profoundly I was sure when we returned I’d start blogging like crazy. Instead radio silence. Well not quite.  Our travels have been sneaking their way – at a slant – into poems. And into dreams. I have been working on a new manuscript and it is hard to write anything else.

There is something too about sailing away to another continent. It’s not fast track. But it is wholly magnificent, especially if you are fortunate enough to sail on the Queen Mary 2. Afterwards people asked us: what do you do all day? And: what is there to see? Everything and nothing are the answers although that’s where it gets muddled up.


You can imagine how people went mad at sea. Nothing but water and sky, sky and water. Water and sky. Though the colours change all the time, every day. Blue isn’t an inadequate word. No birds. No animals. (One day porpoise were sighted but I missed them.) A meditation on nothingness. One day it is paler blue, a few little clouds on the horizon. Blue, blue, blue. Next day grey capped with small white breakers. Foam. A fine drizzle in the air. Dispersing. The sky swollen, puffy with white cloud. Dull but at same time a glare assaulting the eyes because of the sheer expanse of sky and light. The next day a mist which makes even the nothing vanish.

IMG_9901_2Really this is the headline event, the main stage. I find I can’t take my eyes off it. Everything else is a diversion, make believe. And there is so much on board to distract you. Shops that sell pricey wrist watches, perfumes, necklaces. Shows with comedians, live bands. Black tie dinners and dances. Dressing up! Talks in the planetarium. Even some poetry, jazz. A library. Quizzes. Bars. You can learn to dance or play bridge. There are treadmills and whirlpools, white linen, fresh towels. Friends of Dorothy and of Bill W. Someone could rub your feet or your back. The food is delicious, sumptuous. Meeting new people. You chat over cocktails: where are you going? Will you stay long? Are you on your way home or just setting out? Is this your first time? Oh no, say the old hands, we’ve been many times…Endless swaying from deck A to B.

We sail fairly near the spot where the Titanic was lost. We are sailing in comfort for the sheer pleasure of it. Elsewhere others in tiny, leaking boats are crossing seas to escape from persecution. We hear of crew members and passengers who have jumped over board. When we have to put on life jackets and be counted for a safety drill we laugh like children. We complain because none of our devices will work properly. We are living in a floating complex, a bubble the size of a village, miles away from anywhere, surrounded by nothing.

The staff are courteous, almost kind, as if they know all it takes is one look out at the horizon and everything disappears. Then you return to nothing but water and sky, sky and water. It’s there every morning. And last thing at night the ocean rocks you to sleep, rocks you all night long. At 20.1 knots in our case. Always the same ocean. Never the same ocean twice.



I wasn’t expecting it to, but then you never do. I was getting ready to go to America but I went to Bradford Literature Festival first.

Was it the warm Northern welcome I got? The bold dynamism of festival directors Irna Qureshi and Syima Aslam? Was it meeting my teenage idol Liverpool poet Brian Patten and hearing him read his quirky new poems of Sufi stories. Or hearing Abbas Zahedi who performed a multilingual flowing fusion of ancient and modern verse? Seeing poetry buddies?11402902_978091198891378_7926147200791135448_o11402429_978091522224679_7984485600965014969_o11337063_978090388891459_8258207230847855813_o

Was it the dervish dancer who whirled in ecstasy and sorrow on the spot, her feet softly scuffing the floor for what seemed an eternity – how did she do it when I felt wrung out just watching? (Was that the ‘wall’ runners speak of? In every long form – dance, poem, relationship even – there has to come an excruciating moment when you just can’t go on and yet you do. For poems, when you want an alternative to sound-bite/quick fix culture, I recommend the audacious Long Poem Magazine )









Was it being swept along to an evening of Sufiana Kalam, poetry sung to music by the inimitable Shabnam Khan which had the audience (mostly  word perfect) clapping and singing along? I was still tired from the train journey and hadn’t really wanted to go but as soon as it began I was wide awake, feet tapping by themselves in sheer joy. A Kashmiri woman next to me carefully translated some of the Punjabi lyrics. She asked what brought me to the festival and I told her I’d been invited to read the next day at the Commemoration Event for the 75th Anniversary of Siberia Deportations. When I tried to explain the reason for the event, something about Poland’s history, a country squeezed between more powerful neighbours, she understood immediately and said: ‘Oh, like Kashmir’.





Or was it the Polish event itself? Wonderful singer songwriter Katy Carr got everyone singing along to her songs and her versions of partisan songs which the mainly Polish audience all knew. Historian Anita Prażmowska was in conversation with historian Matt Kelly – what they don’t know about the historical background isn’t worth knowing. There was an impromptu appearance from B E Andre reading from With Blood And Scars her epic novel about the Polish post war community of Manchester, which coincidentally includes a poem of mine.

11219558_978092125557952_7562370498954102383_oA group of women from Rochdale had come over specially for the event; five were former deportees. Their families had been forced to leave their homes by Soviet soldiers when the women were small children. I write a lot about that war. Whatever I am writing about it just seeps in. But they lived through it. Some ended up not only in Siberia but in the farthest corners of what was then the British Empire after Stalin had switched sides to join the Allies and a Polish army was formed from among the deportees. I felt very humbled and moved reading to them.11406706_978092095557955_5627653474561375834_o (1)

1506088_978092235557941_5259721179503138287_oBradford is such a vibrant city of very different communities.  How much do we know about one another’s histories and each other’s art? I hope this exciting festival continues to grow, creating more opportunities for new bridges, new connections to be made.11334010_978092162224615_1236927525023049550_o
11357249_978092185557946_376566775016223195_oAll photographs courtesy of Tim Smith and Bradford Literature Festival.

Last year my artist friend Helen got so fed up with everyone posting exotic holiday pictures via social media she started putting up photos of her dirty washing. I thought this was hilarious. Others took it more seriously. Friends wrote in to explain the back story to their photos – it turned out some of the happy pictures weren’t happy after all. A moment after a picture was taken there’d been awful incident or argument …Then her friends seemed to upload fewer pictures altogether. In the end Helen felt terrible – had she killed summer?

IMG_6487Over the many months that I’ve had health problems, I’ve prided myself on not posting about them – why add more misery to a world where most news bring doom and gloom? One blog on it last year (Taboo – In Sickness and in Health) was surely enough. My health issues clearly thought otherwise. But then I wonder is this more cowardice (vanity?)than noblesse on my part? We care – obsess – about image. Even when we profess not to. People always have, long before social media. If you were rich enough you had your portrait painted and made sure the artist showed you in the best light. Now we update our own portraits/profiles, backgrounds. Wstrętny ekshybicjonizm (digusting exhibitionism), my mother would say if she were still alive. An intensely private person who nevertheless cared profoundly about her appearance and like many women of her generation suffered what she perceived as the humiliation of old age – and ill health – the fading of (so called) good looks. IMG_6468Some people manage to tread that fine line where they talk with integrity, openly and publicly about very personal things. Here’s a great blog by fellow poet Clare Best: Touching the core. It’s hugely important to break taboos and silences. Important and difficult when, on the one hand there are still so many silences and, on the other hand, we are so steeped in the cult of the celebrity that sensationalised personal details – what a famous person was wearing or ate for breakfast (let alone who they slept with) – are deemed newsworthy. Meanwhile my potted blueberry is back from the bareness of Winter, first with blossom and now fruit buds. It is almost Summer here and you can hang the washing out… I am off to Bradford Literature Festival to read at an event with Katy Carr & Anita Jean Prażmowska and Bożena Masters, the Commemoration Event for 75th Anniversary of Siberia Deportations 6:30 pm – 8:00 pm on SUNDAY 24 MAY at Delius Arts & Cultural Centre. A topic which deserves a story of its own. After that I set sail across the ocean.IMG_6463   IMG_6460