Excuses, excuses, I could give you any number of excuses, some even rock solid like recent poor health, for why I’ve not been writing. I can’t remember how long it’s been since my last blog, (echoes of “it’s been X days/weeks since my last confession”…)

For some writers (artists, people generally) the pandemic has contributed to them being more prolific than ever, for others of us it’s just the opposite. Some vital nourishment along with the expansiveness/alternative perspective of travel is lacking. For others too increased workloads or teaching online have crushed creativity. Am I the only writer worrying I haven’t yet put a face mask in a poem? My references to Covid 19 are so oblique readers can be forgiven if they miss them. My new book (more about that in another post, promise) was written before the pandemic and while I finished editing it in last year’s lockdown (and the space of cancelled events did help) it felt wrong to try and stick something in just to appear relevant. And of course, the pandemic is not the only thing that has been happening, globally or locally.

If I haven’t been writing much, I have certainly been thinking. There have been events, albeit online, which I’m lucky enough to have been part of and which have provided some of that crucial nourishment for me, and for others I am certain. February 2021 saw a wealth of fantastic of festivals for LGBTQ+ History Month including Coast is Queer – if you missed it events were recorded and can be accessed online, Queer in Brighton focussed on friendship and Lambeth Libraries LGBTQ+ History Month event Pride & Prejudice in Poland shone a light on what is happening in Poland where those in power have condoned and incited outright hatred against LGBTQ+ people, while dismantling women’s rights and democratic process. At this event we were asking ourselves what we do as writers in the face of such oppression. Anna Błasiak felt an urgency to respond, confront – it had changed her to want to write more openly, explicitly as a queer writer. Jacek Dehnel saw the work of literature as a longer project. What was happening currently would not be successfully addressed or reflected upon until some time later, for now the most creative responses were appearing in graffiti, slogans and banners at demonstrations. I am somewhere in the middle. The present situation in Poland has thrown me back to a state of mind I remember where I wanted to come out continually and drape myself in badges or flags, anything, just to be visible. In terms of getting my work translated into Polish my priority has been for the explicitly lesbian or LGBTQ poems to appear – helped here by Anna. But in my current work while I feel the pull of that urgency (anger, dismay, sorrow…) to confront what is happening I also feel the other pull of following what the non-‘authorial’, less conscious voice has to say and to explore where that takes me which is not always immediately apparent or relevant in an obvious way. Emily Dickinson told us to tell ‘all the Truth’ but to tell it ‘slant’ and I find myself coming back to that again.

What a year it’s been… A global pandemic, which has not, as British/US leaders claimed created anything like a level playing field, we know. On the contrary, divisions of gender, race and class, along with regional postcodes have made all the difference to people’s experience and survival. In the UK racism and xenophobia were already on the increase thanks to Brexiteer scaremongering these last few years; even police estimates of attacks show this. With the pandemic there is increased domestic violence. 


What Black people – in America and everywhere in the world – have for years been telling white people about institutional racism and police violence finally received more media attention – it remains to be seen what real change will happen. But along with the increase of hatred – my Polish homeland introducing ‘zones’, ‘cleansed’ of LGBTQ+ people, and even further curbing women’s reproductive rights, while wrecking the judicial system and constitution – there has been a surge of rebellion, from Black Lives Matter to the Women’s Strikes with their lightning bolt symbol all over Poland, to XR protest about climate change and the earth being destroyed in the name of greed and profit. Not just the same (mostly older) people campaigning – young people, courageous and imaginative, all over the world have been leading the way and that gives me so much hope. 

As we approach Winter Solstice here, the year turns and you can’t help looking back over it. I thought I’d write a lot more posts but that didn’t happen somehow – though a new book is finished. Nor did I learn a new language or develop baking skills…But in Brighton more people than usual have taken to sea swimming and I have joined in. For the first time EVER in my life I’ve swum in the sea in December – with my partner and a few dear friends!! I never thought I could do it. Yes, it is cold. And exhilarating! A wonderful relief from too much screen time, too much thinking, worrying.

I asked my partner what she hoped for in the world in 2021 and her first thought was kindness. I agree: kindness to ourselves and one another and to our environment. But without change on the global/societal level will we be saying the same things a year on? I hope not. Let’s keep swimming – and fighting any way we can.

It begins in childhood. Outright lies or more subtle, unspoken messages about Black people, people of colour – which are used to justify prejudice, discrimination, apartheid, genocide. Growing up they didn’t make sense: how could the colour of someone’s skin make them a bad or lesser person? It seemed to me I had things in common with other children who were ‘different’, in my mainly English and white school, since I myself was a foreigner. But I was very young and had little way of making sense of the world and I wanted to believe the adults.

In the (then more recent) past, there was World War 2, the Holocaust, which had been so much about racial hatred, against Jews, Romani people, Slavs as well as about hatred for LGBT people, trade unionists, dissidents. How could people not make the links? I grew up in a white immigrant community in London, where mostly – sadly – people struggling with prejudice themselves felt better by looking down on other immigrants, especially people of colour. Luckily I met other people figuring this out, understanding what we’d been fed as children, working out how it all links up to divide everyone by race and gender and class.

At times it feels like it’s getting worse, plus we’re still mid-pandemic  – but the recent protests world-wide after the death of George Floyd, yet another Black person murdered by the police bring some hope. I remember years back how moved I was seeing a group of police for the first time in the Pride parade in Brighton after years of seeing them at their worst (Grunwicks, Lewisham etc for those of my generation). There have been moments like that recently with police in the USA taking a knee and joining protesters, with a slave trader’s statue being toppled in the the U.K, vigils and protests, signs in windows, messages of support.

The worst thing about being bullied is when people around you either don’t see it happening in the first place or turn away when they do, perhaps feeling too scared to stand up for you. But it makes SO much difference when we stand up for one another! If you are a person of colour reading this I simply want to say Black Lives Matter. If you are a white person, it’s not up to me to tell you what you should do – I just want to encourage you to do something, however small, however clumsy or embarassed you feel, because it’s up to us to end racism. And if you are Polish: nie dajmy sie nienawiści i głupocie! Solidarność jest cenna!




The big shop –

I helped carry the bags

which left my hands stinging,

red stripes across the palms.


Sometimes she’d leave me

by the check out,

while she dashed back

for something she’d forgotten.


As the queue inched forward

I’d stop breathing:

what if she didn’t get back in time

what would I say to the cashier?


But this time we were together

when another woman slipped in front of us.

My mother wasn’t going to let that happen,

complained loudly.


The woman shouted back :

Bloody foreigners  go back where you came from

and everyone looked down into their baskets

till we stepped back.

Bladdifor aynerr.

The grown ups would pass this word

between them like a novelty,

scoffing – something to get used to


like soggy sausages or smog.

I refused to go there again,

so my mother went on her own,

each week carrying all the bags home.


That is a poem I once wrote about growing up in the England, having arrived from Poland in the late 1950’s.

Today, in the light of the UK government’s recent decision to isolate itself from its own continent and connections and given the racism and xenophobia which the campaign to leave so cynically stirred up and exploited causing an increase in attacks on migrants both European and non-European – prejudice and hatred don’t follow any real logic – I’ve been thinking about those times.


Home Coming by Colin Grant (Jonathan Cape 2019)

I was reminded of them too listening to writer Colin Grant and photographer Howard Grey talking about ‘The Lost Images of the Windrush Generation’ at a Lewes Live Literature event recently. A welcome surprise at the event was the truly wonderful poet Grace Nichols’ reading of her poem inspired by the images. Colin Grant spoke so eloquently about the voices of that generation, while Howard Grey’s stunning, miraculously recovered, photographs showed the hopefulness on the faces of people arriving in the U.K from the West Indies. The scandal of how Black people of that generation were then treated in 2018 which continues with deportations on this very day, along with the creation of a ‘hostile environment policy’ by the government only adds to the poignancy of the images and stories.

Growing up there was much racism and sexism, but I was hopeful we could overcome it.  I’m still proud of the movements and organisations which I played only a very small part in but which my generation created. As a young Pole I was inspired by the work of people of colour who first coined terms like Black British. It made me feel Britain could be multi-racial, multi-cultural, inclusive, welcoming – where someone like me could be Polish British, somewhere that could be called home. Looking around today it seems unbelievable that after all those struggles we are where we are now. That feels very hard. After January 31st in the UK so many friends were in tears. We know what backward steps are being taken.

But I don’t think the answer is to berate ourselves with failure. Clearly we made/make mistakes – the terrible fragmentation not least. But I’m proud of the way my generation looked – still looks – at the world in collective terms, looks past our own individual or immediate concerns. I’m proud of alliances forged –  for example feminists and lesbians (among others) supporting the miners’ strikes of the 1980’s or fighting for contraception and abortion rights, proud that we Rocked against Racism and poked fun at gender stereotypes. Thatcherism has since destroyed so much of that way of thinking – of ourselves as part of a much bigger ‘we’. So it’s good to remember, reconnect.

What we’re up against is huge. It makes us feel small and helpless. Luckily there are both younger and older people who continue to stand up for the different, kinder, inclusive world we’ve always wanted and still want, yearn for, believe in. Looking around me : we may be hurting, but I don’t see any of us giving up.

So as, post-Brexit, we’re being told languages other than English won’t be tolerated…I’m especially pleased to be involved in a Polish/English as well as queer live literature production touring this very month, starting this week: Feb 13th, 18th, 20th , 21st and 22nd! You can find all the details here:













I’m also delighted to be compering a Brighton evening with 3 amazing poets, Seni Seneviratne, Sea Sharp and Naomi Foyle on Feb 19th:


and on Feb 14th in Brighton too reading Love Poems:



Fridays was originally published in Everyday Angels (Waterloo Press)

Poczet 1By a happy coincidence, the Polish paper Gazeta Wyborcza  published Olga Tokarczuk’s Nobel laureate lecture in full the day I was flying back from Warsaw so I could read it on the way home. Home is of course the key word here. I recommend reading the lecture in full.


Here’s why:Npx28ks0R42BYo%5mgnllw

On journeys between Poland and the U.K I can’t help thinking about the notion of home and belonging.  This year my partner and I fitted in a last minute, crazy weekend in the run up to Christmas to catch up with family and friends, which made everything more poignant. The lights were switched on while we were there, showering the city centre in shimmering gold, and my partner was bemused asking if anyone – anyone at all? – was planning to eat traditional karp at Wigilia (the main celebration on the 24th). (No one actually likes this fish was the answer.)

FlsPRPnrRpOG3HJnHvnwawSo where do I belong?  I was born in Warsaw but have lived practically all my life in the U.K. I’m writing this on the eve of a British election where the media have been championing right wing politicians hell-bent both on severing the U.K from its own continent and destroying the things I most value here: Britain’s openness and diversity, its not for profit NHS health service, its democratic institutions. These are cynical politicians who will happily plunge this country deeper into austerity and ignore climate change as they themselves will be immune anyway. And then there is my first homeland: 80 towns have been declared “LGBTQ-free” zones. (My civil partnership is not recognised, needless to say.) The constitution and judiciary are being demolished and undermined daily. And yet at the Ujazdowski Castle for Contemporary Arts in Warsaw we saw The Power of Secrets an exhibition by Karol Radziszewski & friends along with the Queer Archives Institute, interviews with artists & activists & a queer portrait gallery through Polish history.  There is talk of change. There is always hope.

I’m a Polish poet writing in English. I don’t sound Polish. I don’t feel English. But then sometimes I don’t feel Polish either. I’m like lots of ‘between’ people. I was schooled here to be lamentably ignorant of European (including Polish) – let alone world – poetry and culture. I’m also a queer poet though at times the LGBTQ literary community struggles to recognise that, since I write about war as much as love and my stories are not straight-forward coming out tales…My most recent collection The True Story of Cowboy Hat and Ingénue (Cinnamon/ Liquorice Fish Press) is a non-linear, cross-genre, lesbian love story interwoven with the stories of other outcasts and refugees, set in a Hispanic context of war. I mention identities because they shape how a person is seen but they are not exhaustive. Poetry is not necessarily ‘about’ one thing or another. Elsewhere I’ve written about being a fish out of water. Whose literary tradition do I belong to?

And then I’m on a plane flying from Warsaw Chopin to Heathrow London and reading Olga Tokarczuk’s speech. I’m not one for grand ceremonies but there is such a humility and such an openness in the way she speaks. And she is talking about literature striving for a ‘tender narrator’, a ‘fourth-person narrator’, which I find so exciting, about the need to:

‘drop the definition of “national literatures,” knowing as we do that the universe of literature is a single thing, like the idea of unus mundus, a  common psychological reality in which our human experience is united. The Author and the Reader perform equivalent roles, the former by  dint of creating, the latter by making a constant interpretation’.

It’s really worth reading her speech in its entirety as it makes better sense than any quotes or soundbites I can give you.nzKi+pecQKyVJOkqL4FF9w

For here is a Polish writer who speaks of ‘tenderness’ in literature:

‘Tenderness is spontaneous and disinterested; it goes far beyond empathetic fellow feeling. Instead it is the conscious, though perhaps slightly   melancholy, common sharing of fate. Tenderness is deep emotional concern about another being, its fragility, its unique nature, and its lack of   immunity to suffering and the effects of time. Tenderness perceives the bonds that connect us, the similarities and sameness between us. It is a way of looking that shows the world as being alive, living, interconnected, cooperating with, and codependent on itself.’

And suddenly I feel that my small contribution, my own work is a step on the right road at the very least. Olga Tokarczuk has articulated so well the things I’m reaching for. Here is a writer speaking my language, in all senses of the word. Decrying greed and prejudice and violence. Ridiculously, I feel she is speaking to me personally. Not that she’s the only one. Olga Tokarczuk would be the first to acknowledge there are many people behind her/with her. Not just writers or artists. But all the many people – my friends and family in Poland among them – who in countless ways, big or tiny, are making change.  Thousands of feet (or metres) in the air between Warsaw and London I feel I have a place. I’m home.AMpRpMIHQr2JWd31Ew8TWQ

Now that the wonderful, honest, open-hearted, open-minded and talented Polish writer, Olga Tokarczuk, has won the Nobel prize, we can rest easy. I needn’t worry that I haven’t and will not now win this prize since it is in such good hands.

Is that the end of my ambition? Maybe not quite.  If I were to be appointed Minister for Language Affairs – unlikely you may think, but you have to be prepared just in case –  I already have a few ideas. Of course poetry (and poetry translation obviously) would occupy a very different place in the world, in education and in the cultural pecking order. Poets would be issued with free coffee vouchers, fêted wherever they went; poetry would receive priority funding on a scale hitherto unknown before – no more back of a pub and pay for your sandwich jobs, red carpet only for us poets. Shallow you say? In my programme world leaders would exchange poems at summits! That’s not all.  I would encourage the use of some words (for instance: dark, silver, blueberry, bear…) but forcibly prohibit others. A fuller list of the (many) desirable words I leave to your imagination. Favourite words you say secretly to yourself, over-use in your speech and writing. But some phrases would be banned. End of story.  I can be ruthlessly uncompromising.

Let me give you an example:

I’m in a supermarket and I get chatting to another shopper and we both start complaining about the (ENORMOUS) amount of plastic packaging wrapped around almost everything in the shop despite people campaigning for this to change.  The supermarket has made promises but not delivered on them yet. Oh well, says my new friend and sighs, that’s just how it is.  Can you hear the ministerial announcement booming through the supermarket loudspeakers? NOOOOOOO!! DON’T SAY THAT!  don’t give up in resignation bellows the voice, pleads the voice, caresses and sings the voice. A choral piece with flashing (low emission) lights, unicorns, scents wafting, music to suit every taste, balloons, poetry (naturally) and dancers who lift the shopper on their shoulders and carry them off to a place so heavenly (for a while, all due health & safety adhered to etc) that this person never ever utters those words that’s just how it is again…

IMG_9635As it was, I did my best to cheer them up and encourage them not to feel resigned, ground down, powerless, discouraged, defeated.  Because that’s what’s getting to us. That sense that whatever we do is irrelevant and won’t make any difference. How much more effectively could I have intervened with full ministerial powers at my disposal!

4e397985-97e9-47f6-8dc8-6e92e7fb87cdIf appointed Oh well… is one of the key phrases I’m going to ban in the English language, currently used in the UK when people just want to give up in the face of the political circus played out on both the very small and the very large scale around them as this country courts disaster.  This disillusionment, this sense of helplessness would be tackled by my ministry.  So I’m just putting it out there. I have been very busy lately – hopefully more about that in other posts or on the link below – but if anyone is thinking of appointing a Minister for Language Affairs, I humbly offer myself as candidate.




55eb637e-b533-4fab-92af-ae2cb29f6018My summer sea swims have been curtailed by the strong winds here in Brighton. Is that it now?

But there are things to look forward to in the coming autumn: Festivals where I’ll be running workshops and reading from my latest book THE TRUE STORY OF COWBOY HAT & INGÉNUE published by Liquorice Fish imprint of Cinnamon Press  ISBN: 978-1-911540-03-8. Listed below. I’m also teaching an online course for the Poetry School, QUEEREADING so am re-posting the blog I wrote for them below that. 

Brighton’s first ever, The Coast is Queer Festival

on Friday 13th, Saturday 14th & Sunday 15th September Brighton’s first ever


Tears in the Fence Festival on Saturday 21st September


Aldeburgh Poetry Festival on Saturday 9th & Sunday 10th November


And thoughts about Queereading at the Poetry School:

“Robin Morgan started her Lesbian Poem with a dedication to everyone who had turned to that poem first in the Contents page of her Monster chapbook.

I’d done exactly that, of course. I was hungry. Hungry for anything I could get my hands on to read with a hint of a non-heteronormative narrative or some reflection of my experience. This was the 1970s and I clung to a handful of authors I’d found, Jean Genet, Violette Leduc, James Baldwin… I’d scan every index for words like homosexual, bisexual etc. Old habits die hard and I still do that (though our language has changed and keeps changing so I look for other words).

I’ve been stock-piling queer poems for years. To this day, for instance, I am ‘discovering’ nineteenth century Polish writers I thought/ was taught were heterosexual but who weren’t. I love finding writers all over the world exploring what it means to be queer. But back when I couldn’t find what I was looking for I made it up, ‘translating’ mainstream narratives into my own. Is the hunger still there?

In her Modern Poetry in Translation essay ‘Queerness as Translation’, Mary Jean Chan* talks about the relief of finding others who mirror our experience and how she found solace in the work of Adrienne Rich. She also describes the process of queering texts we read – in her case Shakespeare’s playful Twelfth Night. Despite reading it in school where it was presented in a conservative, traditional way, and despite Shakespeare’s heterosexual resolution of all his gender-bending in the play, it provided her with her ‘first glimpse into the multiplicity of queer desire’:

‘there was Viola/Cesario who had fallen hopelessly in love with Duke Orsino (whilst wearing her dashing military uniform), and their passionate conversations about the true nature of love made me question who it was I found myself increasingly drawn to – Viola, Cesario, or both?’

With Allie Rogers and Persia West at Brighton Library Let me Be Perfectly Queer event, July 2019.

This process of re-imagining and reinterpreting texts – or songs or films – is so familiar. What nourishment do we need as queer readers? What do we want reflected back at us? Or do we want to be transported somewhere different from ourselves, away from our own backyards? Poetry is often our safe place to explore who we are, but what if we still can’t find ourselves in the depictions of queer that become popular or enter the mainstream?

Introducing the poetry section of Queer Riveter, Lawrence Schimel* acknowledges the complexities of defining queer poetry. For his selection he chose recent work which is ‘celebrating or overtly expressing this identity’ but recognises this can’t be exhaustive. How explicit do we want to be? He also points out how many queer anthologies within Europe are national and thus mono-lingual so we are missing each other’s voices in different languages, from different cultures. And that’s just one continent!

I live in Brighton, the ‘gay capital of the UK’, where we have well established queer communities, lesbian networks, LGBTQ+ Pride, Trans Pride, etc., and even here people can feel isolated, attacked, vulnerable. In my birth country, Poland it’s a different, harsher story again. Is queer poetry – necessarily – a literature of protest? What of reflection, introspection, imagination? Not only that, but for many of us queer identity is not our sole identity. Is it meaningful to say ‘we’ when we come from different communities, ethnicities, face different issues be they race, class, health, age, language, & gender/s?

During my upcoming Queereading course we’re going to be reading poems which address the full richness of our experience, many already translated into English, and responding to them, ‘translating’ them into our own. So this course is for those who turned to the word ‘queer’ in its title, whether from hunger or from the sheer delight of wanting more, of expecting a broader, chewier, more delicious feast.

*Modern Poetry in Translation LGBTQ+ issue House of Thirst, 2018

*Queer Riveter – Riveting Queer Writing from Europe, Edition Six, June 2019, European Literature Network

Queeread and queerwrite across the borders of ourselves and others on Maria Jastrzebska ‘s online course,Queereading. Call 0207 582 1679 or book online.” Concessions available.



Here is what I learned at school: That children are arranged in circles. Well, I say circles it could just as well have been tiers in a vertical system but circles is what springs to mind as I write this now. Back then it would have been hard to put into any words, and certainly not geometrical shapes, though my memory of what was happening is very clear.

In the first and inner circle were the children who got the most stars on the star chart displayed in our classroom for everyone to see. A small inner group. The most popular children. They got silver stars and gold stars as well as – the less valued – red and green and yellow stars.  Their stars stretched in a long line on the chart. You won’t be surprised to know they were mainly, maybe not exclusively blonde and blue-eyed children, and they got the good, speaking parts in the Nativity play. I imagine they always had to be on the look out not to lose their position. The next circle also had a number of stars but not nearly as many. I expect they tried very hard to keep up with the children in the first circle. Perhaps they tried to be like them. And then there was us. We were all foreigners except for one girl. We came from Poland in my case, Nigeria, Zimbabwe (then called Rhodesia), South Africa and Saudi Arabia I think. No one told us where that child was from but I knew he spoke Arabic. The teacher who seemed to be having some kind of break-down or fit used to throw his board rubber at him. We were white, black, brown and so obviously different we each got bullied at one time or another. And then there was this one English girl. Why was she in the foreign circle on the outside with us? The only sense I could make of it then – and now – was because she was different too. She was emotional and laughed much louder than the other children, holding her hands together in front of her and shaking with excitement. So she was bullied as well. The other children held their noses and said she smelled whenever they went past her.

Years later I found out that this learning was called the hidden curriculum as distinct from what the school thought it was teaching us. I wish I could tell you that we banded together sharing what we could see was happening to us and that we gave each other moral support. If we did so at all it was entirely silent. I wish I could tell you that we then reached out to the other two circles and broke down barriers and started a children’s revolution saying we refused to be divided like this or be made to compete with one another. I think we probably all knew and watched and saw everything that happened. But we were divided by gender and race and class and language. We didn’t know how and nobody helped us to form vital alliances, to find the words to describe and understand what was happening and change a system of inner and outer circles and ranking children. I think I’ve been trying to live differently ever since. If I could travel in time, I’d go back and rip the star chart off the wall and sit with all us children and help them/us through it so that no one was ever bullied again and each felt valued.

I know teachers, youth workers, therapists, parents, adults in all walks of life, who have devoted years of their lives to doing exactly that and have made a real difference to children growing up in whatever version of those circles they found themselves in over different decades. I know poets, writers and artists finding ways to speak out against the ‘othering’ of people. I feel so lucky to have that sense of community. We’re living in an immense backlash where prejudice and hatred are being whipped up daily and the earth is being destroyed. We can see it. We watch it all. But we don’t have to watch helplessly.

Plac Solidarności w Gdañsku. Młodzieżowy Strajk Klimatyczny. YOUTH STRIKE ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE IN GDANSK. NATURE BEFORE EXAMS!
15.03.2019 Photograph by fot. Krzysztof Mystkowski / KFP











When I was growing up I found the older generation’s nostalgia for the past suffocating. Have I become backward gazing myself?

I now realise it was their immense grief – trauma – the loss of so many people during the war and the occupation of Poland, the devastation of a whole country, that was overwhelming for a child. The other thing about the past – a bit like the proverbial sales rep joke – is it all depends how you tell it. Which version gets handed down? The dominant, sanitised, simplistic, version or the more complex and inevitably more interesting, inclusive one? (Even children can get excited about history. I have a 6 year old friend who will happily explain to me how it was when she ‘was young’.)

History became exciting when I could find my own experience – my own questions – somehow mirrored in it. Not only exciting but empowering, strengthening, reassuring. I wasn’t alone in how I thought about things and I wasn’t the first – not by a long stretch.

Three events I have been at about the past recently have nourished me. IMG_8499Firstly Dr Aviva Dautch, poet and scholar, gave a wonderful talk at the Progressive Synagogue in Brighton about First World War poet and artist Isaac Rosenberg. She gave us a close reading of his famous poem Break of day in the Trenches in which, as he goes to pick a poppy to put behind his ear, a rat brushes past his hand: a rat free to move between Englishmen and Germans, unrestricted by borders and frontlines, a droll rat, inwardly grinning. It’s an extraordinary poem, clearly at odds with the dominant narrative of nationalistic pomp and glory. A young working class Jew, Rosenberg was helped to pay for his studies by two women artists Lily Joseph and Violet Schiff, women who understood the importance of education, themselves educated – though never to the same extent as their brothers. Joseph and Schiff helped East End women as well. Tragically Rosenberg was killed aged 28 before the war ended.Isaac_Rosenberg_by_Isaac_Rosenberg

Next was Jane Traies in the Nightingale Room in Brighton who introduced contributors from her new book Now You See Me (Tollington Press) and talked about the research she’s carried out into the lives of older lesbians. The readings were funny, poignant, powerful. So is the book. As she points out these stories will simply vanish if we don’t write them down or record them in some way; silence is ‘ how we disappear from history’. The contributors were joined by marvellous author V.G Lee reading from her new book Oh You Pretty Thing (just out from Tollington Press) and as if that wasn’t enough there followed a melodramatic romp about the Ladies of Llangollen, two aristocratic women in the 18th century who eloped to Wales, escaping abuse and enforced religion to live together, reading, writing, drawing and gardening. The drama was written and joyfully performed by Jane Hoy and Helen Sandler of Living Histories Cymru. Everyone left with a smile on their face.


Last but not least I took part in an event to commemorate the bicentenary of Polish writer Narcyza Żmichowska with the scholar and her translator Ursula Phillips plus translator-poet Anna Błasiak and myself. We had been asked by Ursula to respond to Żmichowska and her brand of Enthusiasm as part of Lambeth’s LGBT history month in London. Enthusiasm was a philosophical, spiritual movement in Europe often at odds with religious authorities. EnthusiastsEntuzjastki – was also the name given to the group of women surrounding Żmichowska who were the first openly emancipationist, or proto-feminist group of women in Poland. Here was a woman in the 19th century looking for a more inclusive spiritual framework for her ideas, grappling with the vicissitudes of being a woman writer – she published a collection of texts in 1861 entitled: ‘Several Writings of an Anonymous Female Writer Published by a Completely Unknown Editor’ , a title which made me laugh out loud and encouraging debate and discussion between women. While valued and respected in some circles, Żmichowska was also viewed with suspicion and accused (sic) of being an atheist as well being criticised for supporting a divorced friend. She was clearly someone who was not prepared to limit herself to being only a good Polish mother – in fact she did not marry at all. At the heart of her novel The Heathen translated by Ursula Phillips is a love story between a young man and an older woman which Ursula is convinced is a disguised story about two women, based on Żmichowska’s own experience. If divorce was such a scandal then how much harder to speak of same-sex relationships. In this context the word Enthusiasts can also be seen as code, for women’s friendship, sisterhood, sexuality.

I am indebted to Ursula Phillips for her work on Polish women writers of the 19th century. Their stories are both poignant and inspiring. It is a history I knew nothing about when I was growing up.

Now especially, living in strange and retrogressive times, as clocks get turned back to prejudice and narrow-mindedness we need to look back to stories just like these in order to be able to look forward.




The amazing women at Damesnet have also written about this last event and a longer piece about it by me appears in the next issue of Pamiętnik Literacki journal of the Union of Polish Writers Abroad .

Photo of Ursula Phillips, MJ and Anna Błasiak courtesy of Urszula Sołtys.



img_9181_2According to Polish tradition the tree and decorations should be down by today –  goodbye to the old year, what will the new year bring? Also according to that tradition carp is eaten for Wigilia on Christmas Eve yet practically all the Poles I know don’t like it and so cook other more delicious (this year sea bream here) things. And that’s even before the PolishMoslem/Jewish/atheist/agnostic/feminist/vegan… take on it.

fullsizeoutput_2ea144e557ba-8621-49be-900b-9fb8ff3bf905Against a backdrop of increasing political buffoonery and thuggery 2018 was a creative year for me. A new collection of poems The True Story of Cowboy Hat and Ingénue (Liquorice Fish/Cinnamon Press 2018) came out towards the end of the year. I was proud to be part of the Wretched Strangers anthology (Boiler House Press 2018) marking the vital contribution of non-UK-born writers to British poetry culture, published ‘to commemorate the anniversary of the June 2016 EU Referendum and in solidarity through struggles to come’ with proceeds going to charities fighting for the rights of refugees. And for the last 6 months from Summer to Winter Solstice I have been intensely involved in an exciting Polish led collaborative project, Snow Q, reimagining  Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen along contemporary themes with music, art, film and poetry. I have been posting about it along with the other artists involved (hence my absence) on: https://snowqproject.wordpress.com

As you grow older what other people call history is just parts of your life. When people – still – talk about ‘bra-burning women’s libbers’ I think of my younger self and friends. Of course none of us ever burned a bra in our lives. If we don’t tell our own unique stories they vanish without trace (or get misrepresented). Which is why I was thrilled to hear Queer in Brighton, a project dear to my heart, has received funding to continue its work collecting our precious LGBTQ history. And which brings me back to carp. Its other meaning is to complain in a way that someone else finds ‘unnecessary or annoying’. But one person’s carping is another’s understandable, entirely justified protest…

There is certainly enough to carp about as we start this New Year, 2019. There is also so much to celebrate, not least the connections between us in all our differences and diversities. As Kit Fan says in Wretched Strangers: “So many of us, I want to know every single life, what brought them here today, who they are, and how long they will live.”

Down with bullying and – in this Northern hemisphere – up with snowdrops! As Toni Morrison said a while back: these are precisely the times – again – when artists go to work.






























Photos: Swimming photograph courtesy of Helen Joubert Chagall stained glass, Rita Suszek performs my version of Kai for Snow Q – photograph courtesy of Wendy Pye, Cowboy book launch photograph courtesy of Ceilia Jastrzembska, Amsterdam window, Snow Q poster design by Dagmara Rudkin & Wendy Pye, Cover of my new book design by Adam Craig www.cinnamonpress.com