Archives for posts with tag: poetry





img_2481Thanks to the Artist’s International Development Fund I am able to make 2 short trips to Poland this winter to pursue lines of poetic enquiry and promote my selected work The Cedars of Walpole Park translated int Polish by Wioletta Grzegorzewska, Anna Błasiak & Paweł Gawroński and published by Stowarzyszenie Żywych Poetów.





Here I am in Wrocław, European City of Culture 2016: I didn’t expect it to be gloriously sunny in November. I’m not sure where to go so I sit with my take-away coffee outside Wrocław Główny, the main railway station, once Breslau Hauptbahnhof, built by a royal Prussian architect in the mid-nineteenth century.





Morose Man, aged 71 (he quickly tells me) comes to sit beside me. Within moments he informs me about his various health issues, including discolouration of the urine as well as heart problems possibly caused by side effects from strong medication he is taking for another problem. His body’s like a car, once one thing goes, everything begins to fall apart, only with a car you can get new parts, he says. He lives alone since his wife died, I learn and also how he and the grandchildren visit her grave together – well he can’t turn his back on his family can he – and how the oldest one won’t go to bed until he sings down the phone to him when his daughter calls of an evening. [Some comfort hopefully, I say.]

Politicians, it was ever thus, even harking back to the days of the Tsar, are all the same, they just want to make money, he tells me. He’s not interested. There’s nothing we can do anyway that makes a difference. But he did vote for the present government [ultra right, something like UKIP in the UK, threatening constitutional rights, women’s reproductive rights and currently planning to reinforce a territorial army to deal, inter alia, with civil unrest.] His daughter didn’t vote for them [hurray!] but he doesn’t try to impose his views on her. She has her own mind, he says. He never joined anything in Communist times, never rose up the ranks, doesn’t try to push himself up to the top. Doesn’t aim for the gutter either. He treads a middle path, well you have to. A Christian path. But there’s nothing any of us can do. Everyone has their cross to bear, some heavier than others. Jesus never wanted to die on the cross but he had to. He had no choice did he? 

Poland, oh Poland.





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.


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:

Dziekuję! Thank you!

13512027_10153907518773401_286957910405027_nI’m a poet. I ‘m trying to write a poem about the sea for the lovely Beautiful Dragons Not A Drop project. I wanted this blog to be about writing. I’m also a Pole, by birth and heritage. I have always felt a European. After 2 world wars, the war in Ireland and then the war in what was Yugoslavia it’s so obvious to me what Europe needs is to build even more closeness within itself while at the same time reaching out to other continents, cultures around the world, working together to help refugees who have lost so much, working together for civil liberties, for equality, for a sustainable, healthy environment .

This morning the results of the U.K referendum came in with a shocking (albeit narrow) majority wanting to leave Europe. I say Europe because I don’t for a second believe the vote was about the merits or defects of EU institutions. Will those on the Left or feminists who naively thought they were voting against a capitalist or patriarchal club now realise who they have jumped into bed with? As for those who voted to leave in order to curb immigration I have never known what to say to them. They never wanted the likes of me to enter Britain in the first place. They have conveniently been offered an Other to blame and jumped at that offer. Without Johnny Foreigner everything will be all right.

Today I can’t sit still, can’t concentrate on anything. Walking to the shops from work I wanted to stop everyone I passed & say have you heard? How can you just carry on as normal? Two men behind me were saying to each other: we could move to Scotland… The exercise of the referendum has back-fired on the Tory Prime Minister who has resigned today. David Cameron should have read his history books. In the 1930’s the German Right believed they could use and manage Hitler.  Before long he had outmanoevered, over-powered or simply got rid of them.We already know Cameron’s successor will be even worse than he was. This referendum campaign to leave Europe was conducted by stirring up xenophobia and racism – perhaps these forces were never that far below the surface. That’s what’s so frightening and upsetting. Now they have been given a green light.

In this climate the Labour M.P Jo Cox was murdered last week by a man reportedly shouting ‘Britain First!’ who has alleged links to white supremacist groups and in court called himself : ‘death to traitors, freedom for Britain’ . Her husband urged people to fight ‘the hate that killed her’. I can’t imagine what he and her family are going through.

13497858_10154493451523646_7489450108758851598_oMy phone hasn’t stopped today with everyone I know feeling some version of absolutely gutted. What should we do, as the clocks get turned back further and further, not only in the U.K but elsewhere? I don’t know. Grieve, feel shocked, feel our hearts break, go numb, feel tired? Remember how we were once bullied as children (in my case for being different/Polish) and find ways to heal and feel less helpless as adults now, have parties, paint, build, have sex, sing, dance, swim, grow veg, play ball, play music, paint our toe nails, go for walks, hide under the duvet, sleep, swear, spit, watch TV, turn off the TV, organise, protest, eat ice-cream? Raise money, love each other, hug our kids, hug each other, stick together, let off steam, be angry, get furious, livid, raging, think together, cry our eyes out together, believe in love, in friendship, translate, talk to each other, reach out, read books from other countries, write more poems? In what order? I don’t know. Maybe the order doesn’t matter. But let’s not shrug and say ‘Oh well..’ Let’s not be British about this.



Russia 1924








My mother was ambivalent about International Women’s Day. On the one hand she saw it as a Socialist festival (for someone who had lived through a decade of post-war Stalinism this could only mean BAD.) On the other hand she loved flowers and liked the Polish custom of men giving women flowers on IWD. I have some ambivalence too, which runs more like this: how can 1 day a year be remotely enough to celebrate what we as women do or who we are? On the other hand I like any excuse to party. And celebrating ourselves as women is vital.

Tomorrow at 11am on March 8th 2016 I will be taking part in an International Women’s day online digital discussion with 3 other artists:

Rifa Thorpe-Tracey who is an advocate for women in tech. Amongst many things she is founder of the Brighton branch of global creative networking group for women in digital, SheSays.

Jamila Prowse who is founder and editor of the independent small-print magazine Typical Girls, which showcases the work of female creatives through print, discussions, talks, workshops and music events.

and Jinan Petra who is a campaigner for women’s rights and social justice. She is involved in a number of activist groups, projects and movements that fight to safeguard the rights of women and girls across the UK and beyond.

I am Maria Jastrzębska a Polish-born, Brighton based poet, editor and translator with a particular interest in borders and boundaries: between countries, cultures, languages, between social and sexual identities, health and illness.

This event is hosted by Melissa Ray who works in Communications at Fabrica the innovative art gallery in Brighton.

You can be our live audience from 11am tomorrow by clicking on:

Zapraszam serdecznie/you are warmly welcome!




IMG_9900_2Sometimes I think I am still in the middle of the ocean. Last year my partner and I sailed to New York and back from Southampton. We had so many adventures and the trip affected us both so profoundly I was sure when we returned I’d start blogging like crazy. Instead radio silence. Well not quite.  Our travels have been sneaking their way – at a slant – into poems. And into dreams. I have been working on a new manuscript and it is hard to write anything else.

There is something too about sailing away to another continent. It’s not fast track. But it is wholly magnificent, especially if you are fortunate enough to sail on the Queen Mary 2. Afterwards people asked us: what do you do all day? And: what is there to see? Everything and nothing are the answers although that’s where it gets muddled up.


You can imagine how people went mad at sea. Nothing but water and sky, sky and water. Water and sky. Though the colours change all the time, every day. Blue isn’t an inadequate word. No birds. No animals. (One day porpoise were sighted but I missed them.) A meditation on nothingness. One day it is paler blue, a few little clouds on the horizon. Blue, blue, blue. Next day grey capped with small white breakers. Foam. A fine drizzle in the air. Dispersing. The sky swollen, puffy with white cloud. Dull but at same time a glare assaulting the eyes because of the sheer expanse of sky and light. The next day a mist which makes even the nothing vanish.

IMG_9901_2Really this is the headline event, the main stage. I find I can’t take my eyes off it. Everything else is a diversion, make believe. And there is so much on board to distract you. Shops that sell pricey wrist watches, perfumes, necklaces. Shows with comedians, live bands. Black tie dinners and dances. Dressing up! Talks in the planetarium. Even some poetry, jazz. A library. Quizzes. Bars. You can learn to dance or play bridge. There are treadmills and whirlpools, white linen, fresh towels. Friends of Dorothy and of Bill W. Someone could rub your feet or your back. The food is delicious, sumptuous. Meeting new people. You chat over cocktails: where are you going? Will you stay long? Are you on your way home or just setting out? Is this your first time? Oh no, say the old hands, we’ve been many times…Endless swaying from deck A to B.

We sail fairly near the spot where the Titanic was lost. We are sailing in comfort for the sheer pleasure of it. Elsewhere others in tiny, leaking boats are crossing seas to escape from persecution. We hear of crew members and passengers who have jumped over board. When we have to put on life jackets and be counted for a safety drill we laugh like children. We complain because none of our devices will work properly. We are living in a floating complex, a bubble the size of a village, miles away from anywhere, surrounded by nothing.

The staff are courteous, almost kind, as if they know all it takes is one look out at the horizon and everything disappears. Then you return to nothing but water and sky, sky and water. It’s there every morning. And last thing at night the ocean rocks you to sleep, rocks you all night long. At 20.1 knots in our case. Always the same ocean. Never the same ocean twice.



Last year my artist friend Helen got so fed up with everyone posting exotic holiday pictures via social media she started putting up photos of her dirty washing. I thought this was hilarious. Others took it more seriously. Friends wrote in to explain the back story to their photos – it turned out some of the happy pictures weren’t happy after all. A moment after a picture was taken there’d been awful incident or argument …Then her friends seemed to upload fewer pictures altogether. In the end Helen felt terrible – had she killed summer?

IMG_6487Over the many months that I’ve had health problems, I’ve prided myself on not posting about them – why add more misery to a world where most news bring doom and gloom? One blog on it last year (Taboo – In Sickness and in Health) was surely enough. My health issues clearly thought otherwise. But then I wonder is this more cowardice (vanity?)than noblesse on my part? We care – obsess – about image. Even when we profess not to. People always have, long before social media. If you were rich enough you had your portrait painted and made sure the artist showed you in the best light. Now we update our own portraits/profiles, backgrounds. Wstrętny ekshybicjonizm (digusting exhibitionism), my mother would say if she were still alive. An intensely private person who nevertheless cared profoundly about her appearance and like many women of her generation suffered what she perceived as the humiliation of old age – and ill health – the fading of (so called) good looks. IMG_6468Some people manage to tread that fine line where they talk with integrity, openly and publicly about very personal things. Here’s a great blog by fellow poet Clare Best: Touching the core. It’s hugely important to break taboos and silences. Important and difficult when, on the one hand there are still so many silences and, on the other hand, we are so steeped in the cult of the celebrity that sensationalised personal details – what a famous person was wearing or ate for breakfast (let alone who they slept with) – are deemed newsworthy. Meanwhile my potted blueberry is back from the bareness of Winter, first with blossom and now fruit buds. It is almost Summer here and you can hang the washing out… I am off to Bradford Literature Festival to read at an event with Katy Carr & Anita Jean Prażmowska and Bożena Masters, the Commemoration Event for 75th Anniversary of Siberia Deportations 6:30 pm – 8:00 pm on SUNDAY 24 MAY at Delius Arts & Cultural Centre. A topic which deserves a story of its own. After that I set sail across the ocean.IMG_6463   IMG_6460

I am two different people. But first, let me tell you about my dream. I was being published in a new anthology. The details were hazy except I know awesome poet and friend Vahni Capildeo was in it too. We had to give a reading and – classic performer’s dream – I couldn’t find a copy of my poem, couldn’t remember a single line…except the title: Taboo.



So here in our everything must be air-brushed, image, success and goal-obsessed Western advanced capitalist society what are the taboos? Not so much kinky sex (whatever that means) more the ordinary stuff. Illness, old age, poverty…?

Take illness. Just for instance, say. Here is the split: when I am well I am in a hurry. Running from A to B. Concerned – like the business man in Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince – ‘with matters of consequence’. Illness? It’s a switch-off topic. Read a blog about it? Not likely. I don’t even want to be associated with it. I feel sorry for ‘Them’, the poor unfortunates dealing with it. When I’m well I’m busy trying to figure out my rest-play balance, the creativity v other stuff balance etc. I long to have more time. To catch up. To do all those things I haven’t had time to do. Oh to have time! Oh to bask in it!

IMG_5700But when I am ill I am very slow. I even walk slowly if I walk at all. And I have lots of time. But I never get round to catching up with anything. Whatever ‘it’ was is long gone, disappearing over some horizon, out of reach. I’m find I’m drawn to other ill folk. We swap stories of symptoms, latest remedies tried, practitioners who helped or didn’t help. We read up about about illness. The rest-play balance decisions become even harder, scarier because the stakes feel higher. It’s a whole other world – which does nothing for our profiles or careers. Those back in the healthy world don’t always understand…

I wrote a number of poems on illness a while back, here’s one snippet:

(from ‘Fatigue’ in Syrena (Redbeck 2004) )

“People keep asking me/about Fatigue./I say:/it happens to metals after repeated blows…

…Is it like being tired/ all the time…I tell them no.//Tired is a shore I long to reach.”

IMG_5822Of course this is all an over simplification. There aren’t two worlds, sickness and health, (unless you work for the government planning ever more cuts to disability benefits). There are other worlds in between and worlds within worlds. We’re all on some spectrum, some of us live bi-culturally, multi-culturally. But it feels like two distinct worlds sometimes.

Does illness make us more sensitive people or just crabbier? It certainly forces us to be more selfish or self-focussed which is an interesting challenge for women especially.

As a poet I make it my business to enter different worlds – illness is not one I choose. Recently it has claimed me. When I venture back on short-stay visas into the healthy world, I feel like a foreigner. How can I possibly explain where I have been and where I am returning to when the visa runs out?

If you’re a fellow traveller or resident of the ill world and have read this far in the hope of miraculous tips, you may be disappointed.What’s keeping me going? Actually this applies to all my worlds: the amazing – and humbling- kindness, friendship and love of others. Oh and my potted blueberry. I’ve been watching it change close-up.


Are there pluses for a writer on this journey? Tricky. Do we dream more when we are ill? Perhaps we’re also pushed face to face with the visceral, the body’s minutae, those everyday details which fascinate poets anyhow? We’re used to picking berries from among brambles. Would I swap this journey for a different one? In a heartbeat.

IMG_5842Why do artists get ill? Why do women, or carers, get ill? Working people? Babies, old people? Why does anybody get ill? I don’t know but it’s worth asking. I have some more questions: what would it be like to get ill in a society which revered the ill and the vulnerable? (I don’t just mean comfy seats at bus-stops so you can rest though that would be a start.) I mean a whole attitude change to how we see sickness and health? Where illness was believed to be a vitally significant journey? Where the world waited eagerly for all our dispatches? Where treatment options weren’t dependent on your income or postcode? What if ‘health and safety’ at work meant: how is each employee’s health being preserved – no enhanced! – by working here? Where growing ill – or old – wasn’t something to be scared of?