Archives for posts with tag: Christmas

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.

https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/literature/2018/tokarczuk/104871-lecture-english/

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

It’s that time of year again…complicated…?

So many kinds of wrong. The manipulation of women, families with no money, anyone physically or mentally vulnerable, heart-broken; the pressure to spend/consume, to cope and act jolly and the imposition of cultural norms, an expectation of conformity regardless of other faiths or persuasion is often unbearable at this time of year. Not to mention all the sugar or booze.

And yet and yet and yet, despite all that, I take a childish delight in Christmas and also Advent: this current period of time of preparing for it. It’s probably the time of year I feel most Polish and also recall childhood Christmases – both good and bad – (yes, it’s complicated) and somewhere in the middle of it all the sense of hope on the longest night.  Of course Christianity doesn’t have the monopoly on festivals of light or celebrations of the longest night in the year, Persians, Greeks, Romans, pagans, Hindus and Jews invented such rituals long before the Christians.

There are many traditions and customs which form part of the Polish celebrations with its main focus on Wigilia i.e Christmas Eve. I think one of my favourite is the laying of an extra place for an unexpected guest. A stranger who is to be welcomed. Given the recent track record of my two (birth and adopted) homelands, Poland and the U.K in welcoming refugees, increasingly this is a heinously enormous irony. I don’t imagine those in power read blogs such as this or listen if they do, but here’s a flicker sent out into the universe, a reminder that the extra place on the table doesn’t have a sign on it saying no Muslims or LGBTQ people for instance. Worth mentioning too how many LGBTQ people still dread times like Xmas when their families deny who they are or who they are with. There was a wonderful event in Brighton recently organised by Brighton Migrant Solidarity and Thousand 4 £1000 to raise money for supporting refugees. It included a reading from activist-poet Saradha Soobrayen and a film about the collective making of an amazing patchwork blanket for a refugee family. The project took as its name the first line of a verse inscribed on Brighton’s city gates as you drive in:

Hail Guest. We ask not what thou art
If friend, we greet thee, hand & heart
If stranger, such no longer be
If foe, our love shall conquer thee.

Too cheesy? That’s another thing I like about this time of year. Permission to be ultra cheesy! Angry, indignant too. Sad. Excited. Complicated…(See Death and the Devil included in the Christmas display from Kraków below.)