Archives for posts with tag: being other


img_2634What does it mean to be different? How do we perceive others? It tells us everything about a society knowing how difference is treated within it. This will be the subject of a new exhibition at Fabrica the Brighton gallery, where I first began to write blogs as their artist in residence a few years ago. They/Onlar by Turkish artist Ipek Duben runs from April 8-May 29 2017.

This blog follows on directly from the last one where I spoke to writers I met in Poland about their experience of being different. Below is what 2 writersRadek Wiśniewski, writer, poet, editor, founding publisher at  Stowarzyszenie Żywych Poetów and cultural activist and Olgerd Dziechciarz, poet, prose writer and cultural activist had to say (translated from Polish). The title of this blog Chipboard (the wonderfully expressive paździerz in Polish – not least given three ‘z’s) was a word I discussed at length with Radek and translator pals. It was the cheap material used make furniture in Poland in the 1980’s. In the last year we have seen divisions between people deepen dramatically, yet in my social life these divisions don’t show up. Us and Them aren’t in contact. Is it different in Poland? Are people in opposing factions more bound up socially? That was my impression but it still shocks when chasms open. As over here, people I spoke to were focussed on surviving the current climate.

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Radek Wiśniewski

To be other doesn’t mean being at risk, for now at any rate but it’s already uncomfortable. And how long is for now? We think we’re the same and surround ourselves in good faith with like-minded people. That’s the illusion but it’s breaking up, the bubble is bursting. It turns out we differ in ways it was difficult to see until recently. For instance at a friend’s barbecue we went to with Małgosia last autumn: when conversation was flagging we turned to the latest news about refugees drowning at sea and were saying that if they do reach the shores of one or at most two countries and these countries aren’t coping, something needs to happen. We talked about Pope Francis himself calling on all Catholics to accept a family into each parish.

“Best thing to do would be to shoot at them and not miss.” said one person, a Catholic who had just sent their child for first holy communion. We looked at each other amazed waiting for some response from the other guests at this garden party of educated people, who’d worked hard, often earning money abroad, to build their small oases of family life.

“I’d go first, if you gave me a gun.” another father of the tribe joined in. The children were playing around us, singing along to Disco Polo.

“You told me to watch what I say about refugees and that we’re in a minority, but I didn’t believe you” said Małgosia on the way home.

It was getting dark. These same people will go to church on Sunday to worship a Jew, himself once a refugee from Egypt, his mother Miriam and father Yossef. These same people will gladly tell you about their community’s terrible fate throughout the great wars, migrations and exile. Yet the people who truly understand the legacy of the Polish people and of Poland are not the ones we met with at the barbecue. These are the inhabitants of some kind of Polandia, built on the ruins of Poland. They have settled for a sham, a shabby chipboard facade. Only I’m not sure whether the real Poland, as it once was, ever existed. Or is it that it exists only in the minds, the idealisation of a few individuals, foreigners, others. Like you. For now at any rate.’

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Olgerd Dziechciarz:

Being different means being yourself. I don’t know if I’m different, but I try be all right with myself. I see how people bend over backwards, let themselves get bent out of shape in order to fit in – I’m fairly resistant to that. Once in the 80’s I belonged to a punk band, it was harder then to be yourself, or maybe it was easier, I don’t know anymore. Anyhow that was a formative time. Basically I try not to judge other people. In political matters I’m getting closer (again) to anarchism, a humane kind, similar to Kropotnik’s. In matters of poetry I know less and less. Or maybe I just know less and less generally. Not important. What’s important is that sometimes I host cool people, we talk about literature, we have a laugh, sometimes we have a beer or something stronger and life feels more bearable. The world is beautiful, people are beautiful, except for those who aren’t especially beautiful but – oh wonder of wonders – are the ones who claim the right to make decisions for us. And that’s the only thing which worries me. But maybe one day we’ll get together and drive them out. Yes, I still believe that.’

Next week the London Book Fair has its market focus on POLAND. Opportunities to hear more from Polish writers, what will be uppermost on their agendas?https://literature.britishcouncil.org/project/the-london-book-fair-poland-market-focus-2017

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https://literature.britishcouncil.org/blog/2017/first-monday-blog-polish-literature-across-borders/

 

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I often wonder how my life would have turned out had we stayed in Poland. I came to England with my family as a small child and grew up different from the majority around me. We, my family, community and myself, spoke a different language, ate different food, had different customs, songs, stories. In time more layers got added to that. In my teens I fell in love with a girl and that too changed the course of my life. Difference became, as I wrote in an early poem, ‘simply the backdrop/to everything I do/…the sound of my own footsteps”. So otherness is never far from what I write about. This winter thanks to an Artist’s International Development Fund grant I visited Poland twice, first travelling to Wrocław, then Kraków. My publisher arranged a mini book tour of the dual language collection The Cedars of Walpole Park in which my selected poems are translated by Wioletta Grzegorzewska, Paweł Gawroński and Anna Błasiak. The time flew by so I asked some of the writers, who had hosted my events to continue the dialogue we’d begun and write to me about how they see being other, being different, in Poland. Ostensibly, as Poles they belong to the majority, people living in their own country – a country and its people e/migrating to these shores in turn at times and then seen as other from over here.

I was struck by how much my writer-hosts had to say about religion – the rise of Christian fundamentalism has gripped the country in recent years leaving many writers out on a limb. Here is Agnieszka Żuchowska-Arendt literary translator (from Serbian and Croatian), writer and cultural activist in Kraków, (translated by me):

“Being different means always being lonely. But also stronger. You have to be because ever since childhood you got called names, kicked, spat on for being fat, for not knowing how to play with dolls, because you read books and didn’t collect colourful trading cards…

“It’s not good being a ‘biscuit’ as bisexual people are commonly known. Among heteros at best you’re an undecided weirdo or show-off. There’s allusions to threesomes and infidelity…It’s not any easier with lesbians They’re always mistrustful, see you as a traitor or a spy because you’ve slept with guys. As a ‘biscuit’ you’re excluded from the lesbian and gay community too, which itself also suffers exclusion form the rest of society.”

And then there’s being an atheist:

 “Childhood experience has taught you that in a small town you must never ever admit to being an atheist. Don’t give anything away. But the secret weighs on your conscience. You get top marks in RE. You don’t go to church, you don’t lie about believing in God, but nobody actually asks you so you don’t have to lie. Surely nobody guesses…”

Kazimierz area of Kraków

Kazimierz area of Kraków

At university in a big city, Krakow, she thought it would be a safer place to exchange different viewpoints but found herself proved wrong. Those who believed in God saw atheists as Satanists, capable – in the absence of a belief in God – of any crime. Not only that but as communists to boot:

 “No matter that in 1989 you were six years old, you still represent the ZOMO [paramilitary-police of the Communist government]…the question of faith has to remain a private matter and not something you ‘display publicly’ say people wearing crosses and medallions round their necks, taking out rosaries on buses, crossing themselves as the bus passes a church, hanging crosses in schools and offices, wishes of blessings and grace at Christmas and Easter and from Baby Jesus or the Risen Christ on their lips. But one word about not sharing their faith and you become an agitator, someone doing battle with the church. Not everyone is like this, but sometimes I‘m surrounded by a circle of believing friends who openly declare they are praying for my conversion. The biggest compliment they pay me is to say: I like you because even though you are an atheist you are a good person. When I answer that I like them too even though they are believers, they look surprised.”

Part 2 of this blog will follow with a publisher/poet and an ex-punk rocker.