IMG_4306What a shame you’re going to miss the fire in the brothel, my friend said to me when I arrived. I understood every word but had no idea what she was talking about – she meant Pożar w Burdelu, the hottest (sic) cabaret in Warsaw. What was it like being in my birth town? Hot and cold I tell everyone and the weather did indeed range from sleeveless tops to jumpers but we poets always mean something else as well, don’t we. It’s different when I go to France, for instance. I meekly accept that I can’t remember how to form the subjunctive and will be regarded with suspicion as a foreigner, but in Poland…I hear my mother telling us kids off for becoming too much like the English. I feel somehow not Polish enough. I run around trying to see as many people and things as possible, have to be reminded constantly which tram to take where, am fed at every opportunity regardless of what time I turn up and shown such hospitality and warmth it makes me cry even thinking about it. This year it was strawberry season. And I mean STRAWBERRIES, not the paler imitation. Strawberries with whipped cream, with vanilla ice cream, in sugary syrup, in cake, au naturel…IMG_4348

Before I knew it, it was time to fly home and now I’m in back in Brighton I feel somehow more Polish again. Every day I miss speaking my mothertongue. That’s just the way it is.

Last year on a panel at eMigrating Landscapes at UCL poet Steven Fowler asked writer and translator Marek Kazmierski and myself if we identified as Polish writers. Marek – with a more Polish accent than mine- said No, I, in my native-speaker sounding English, answered Yes. Afterwards we talked about this and both agreed it wasn’t that simple and really we both meant Yes and No at the same time. If I flick back through the books I’ve written they’re crammed full of Polishness, though written in English, from the perspective of living outside Poland.

Many writers are reluctant to be confined to any identity. Besides when you live in ‘your own’ country you rarely think of yourself as having a particular identity unless you happen to belong not to the mainstream culture but to a minority. Identity is usually talked about in relation to those outside the dominant culture or if you are visiting another culture when you suddenly acquire that ambassador role. Can you imagine a new novel being described as depicting white culture or telling a heterosexual love story? (And yet how many discussions have we had about whether there is such a thing as queer writing or not at Queer Writing South events!) When I give readings abroad I am usually billed as a British poet. Here often as a Polish poet, sometimes a queer poet.  At the wonderful London bookshop Gay’s The Word the policy is that novels need some gay characters whereas poetry is left, so to speak, an open book…Next week I’m reading at Have A Word in Brighton and then at Felixstowe Book Festival where I’ll be talking with writer and journalist Ziemowit Szczerek about Polish writing. Is there such a thing? I wonder what we will decide.

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