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My parents lost everything during the war. Their city was razed to the ground so that they lost their homes along with the very streets they’d stood in. So it’s not surprising that once they got to England they kept everything – from tiny salvaged black and white (even sepia) photographs to rubber bands or plastic carrier bags. Once they bought a house in London they never moved again. Over the years they filled it with more and more things, including mementos from my grandparents’ nearby house when my grandparents died. Then after my parents died in turn bags full of things ended up in my house. Recently my partner and I decided to downsize and move from a house to a flat which meant I have had three layers of belongings to sort. I had kept so many old letters and photographs, my own, my parents’ and their parents’. Sorting through the piles hasn’t been easy. I wish I could tell you I have finished the job but some of the old papers have followed me to our new flat although a little more sorted this time, in nice, see-through plastic boxes, though there are a still a lot of them. Along the way I discovered gems, notes written by mother during the Warsaw occupation.  Little books reliably called ‘My Book’ created by me when I was barely literate, confirming how I always planned to be a writer, along with a certificate for second place in the sack race at my primary school…Inevitably there was also a lot of dreck, although one person’s weed to be pulled up is another’s wild flower. Friends divided into the writers who all cried Keep Everything It Will Be Handy for the Memoir or Your Poems…and everyone else who said for heaven’s sake free yourself from all that emotional baggage and make space in your life.

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In a way it’s similar to editing poems. Some poems thrive on richness, on texture, colour crowding in; they bristle with rawness and sensory detail, depend on their ability to take the reader by storm. You need to throw yourself into them – writing on your nerve – and not hold back, not censor. Other times it’s all about what you leave out, what is unspoken. Some poems are so pared down you could say they’re written with silence as much as words. So that’s how it’s been these last few months – what to keep, what to take with me.img_2247

The magazines tell us moving house is one of the most stressful times in your life.  A few days without internet or the TV not working, disruption to daily routines, newness, unfamiliarity and we are tearing out our hair. Glasses, (glasses case!), pens (including that great thick black marker pen which keeps disappearing) – I daren’t put anything down or it will get lost among constantly shifting cardboard boxes, piles. I am tired, irritable. It’s only when you leave that you notice everything you’ve been taking for granted, the familiar route from your front door to the fishmongers, the cat who liked sitting on the roof of the neighbour’s car. And yet this is something my partner and I have freely chosen. We have the comfort of family and friends’ support, the luxury of choosing shades of white for the walls or the shape of new taps.  All the time I have been thinking of how it must have been for my parents who could only pack a few cases when we left Poland to flee communism. What – if anything – was I told about us leaving our homeland, not to return for years and years. But my parents were making a planned decision. I’ve been trying to imagine refugees being forced to leave suddenly, in immediate fear for their own or their families lives. It doesn’t bear thinking about. Yet the refugee ‘crisis’ is worse than ever.

Friends of mine have dropped everything and gone to Lesvos to help refugees there, others have been to Calais. Most of us shudder and look away. So in the midst of the recent surge in anti-foreigner feeling in this country it feels good to do even a small thing to help. In Brighton we are having a Poem-a-thon at Komedia on December 11th 2016 where 60 of us will be reading poetry non-stop to raise money for the School Bus Project at the Refugee Council. I hope you can donate something to it – any amount – and tell your friends about it. It doesn’t take long, honestly (take it from a non-techie poet). Just click on the link:

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Maria-Jastrzebska

Dziekuję! Thank you!

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