Archives for posts with tag: Poland

 

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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.

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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.

 

 

IMG_1170IMG_1181IMG_1183What is happening to the time-space continuum (so fondly referred to in Star Trek)? Last month I was on a pro-choice demonstration in Warsaw. If I told you about all the demonstrations I have ever been on we would be here forever. But these are pictures of the one outside the Sejm (parliament) building, in my birth town where the government have been trying to make all abortion illegal. I listened to the eloquent speakers. Some spoke in fury. Some soberly.  All spoke brilliantly.

One woman talked about a church which covers up the abuse of children in its care and then preaches to women about reproduction. Another woman told us the story of her daughter who’d had to have a termination on health grounds which saved her life and enabled her to go on and have a child later. Professor Monika Płatek said we want abortion to be legal, safe and a rare occurrence. She then went on to outline what is necessary for that to be the case with social conditions and sex education as priorities. She pointed out the dire consequences when the dictator Ceausescu criminalised abortion in Romania. People brought coat hangers to the demo as a symbol of back street abortion.

Below are pictures from 40 years ago in Brighton when women’s rights were threatened by a restricting abortion bill – it didn’t get passed. Not the church, not the state women must decide their fate, we chanted. Our posters showed knitting needles – another backstreet variant which older campaigners then still remembered.

Recently there have been so many and continue to be demonstrations about different issues all over Poland. For a clearer understanding of what is happening there I suggest reading other people, for example like film-maker Wanda Koscia.  Given all the injustice happening world-wide if I write about Poland it’s because I feel connected to it in ways I can’t always explain but which touch the very core of me. Since I visited Warsaw I have been hearing more depressing accounts from friends and family there. About the erosion or outright destruction of democratic institutions and hard won rights civil liberties, including women’s reproductive rights, and about ever increasing racism, anti-semitism, anti-refugee feeling, Islamophobia, homophobia. Yet people are also galvanised. They are meeting up together. Isolation is getting broken down.

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I happened to be in Warsaw for a tiny moment, standing at a demo in my birth town thinking back to other demos. For feminists, activists, politically engaged and caring folk it is devastating to see the clocks being turned back whether here or in other countries. Are we in a time warp? I’ve also been sorting through old letters recently and finding letters from older friends and relatives, Polish, Jewish, German, people who lived through World War II writing aghast at war in the Middle East and elsewhere. How can this be happening again, happening still, they ask with bewilderment? Sorrow, bewilderment, anger, despair – these seem accurate responses when clocks are turned back. Is there also hope? There has to be. In Poland there is K.O.D (Committee for the Defence of Democracy) and a new political party called Razem (Together) and countless individuals and organisations fighting back. There is the closeness and exhilaration when people join forces. On the demo I went to there was a friend who is over 80. She clearly has no intention of giving up. But I’ll leave the last word to the young friend I met, a young woman with blue hair who said she’d never been on a demonstration because she’s scared of crowds. But now, she said, she’s more scared of the Polish government. So she went and chanted and made a stand for the first time in her life: GDZIE JEST WASZE CZŁOWIECZEŃSTWO?!

 

Poland followed me to Barcelona.

(I decided not to blog over the summer and to experience instead. But now it’s autumn it feels like time to be back and there is the never-ending task of catching up.)

I visited Barcelona’s MACBA gallery without knowing what exhibitions would be on but confident that there is always something amazing there. I wasn’t disappointed but was surprised to

IMG_5214find an exhibition showing Polish architect and educator Oskar Hansen’s work called Open Form. This also included a film ‘Them’ by Artur Żmijewski which records a social experiment performed by the artist. Żmijewski organised a workshop to which he invited four groups representing divergent ideological points of view. The groups included members of the nationalist Młodzież Wszechpolska (All-Polish Youth), the Scouts, the Catholic Church, Young Socialists, young Polish Jews and leftist activists such as members of the Repressed Workers organisation. The participants were given the task of negotiating the shape of their common space without words, creating images that represented their view of Poland and responding to one another’s work. Each group produced a map of Poland on large posters and the ‘debate’ began. Sadly – predtictably? – it didn’t go well. The church door painted on the map by one group was painted to look open by another and this seemed to satisfy everyone for a while but beyond that there was no common ground. Letters spelling ‘Poland’ in Hebrew along with rainbow flags were painted over, whited out of existence by the opposing group. Tension and antagonism escalated till in the end the artists were forced to flee a literally smouldering, smoke filled space. Perhaps the rifts run too deep and destruction was the only outcome possible at this point in time.

All summer the media have reported news of killings in the Middle East and also in the Ukraine which have grown more and more grim and shocking.

I came back from Spain just in time for Brighton Pride. Apart from the wonderful Literature Tent run by the libraries in its second year this summer, tea, cakes and fantastic performances that included individual authors and Queer in Brighton and Queer Writing South…I really loved going to the Mods & Rockers night at Duckies that evening. Not only did everyone get to chose an identity – outfit, hairdo etc – for the night and you could have your picture taken on motorbike or scooter, with hair-styling & fashion advice, not only did they have stunning performers such as David McAlmont, Lorraine Bowen and the Two Wrongies – for once powerful and hilarious naked women, who were clearly having fun rather than being exploited – not only was there the best music and dancing but also a choreographed mods v rockers fight took place with no one getting hurt and everyone showing off and having a good laugh. Perhaps it’s only from the distance of time that such rifts can be handled with humour and gentleness.

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In the late 80s when I was on a scholarship in Warsaw meat and chocolate were still being rationed, censorship was rife, dissidents jailed. In Russia the poet Irina Ratushinskaya had been arrested in 1982, convicted the following year of “agitation carried on for the purpose of subverting or weakening the Soviet regime” with a sentence of seven years in a labour camp and five years of internal exile.

In prison she wrote poems about love and Christian theology on soap, memorising them before they were washed away. She was released on the eve of the summit in Reykjavík between Reagan and Gorbachev in 1986. Three years later the Berlin Wall came down and everything changed.

With artist friend Jola Scicińska we produced a book at that time called Postcards from Poland (Working Press). Travelling back and forth between Poland and England I felt a huge cultural gap and as usual found myself somewhere in the middle.  I was writing about the euphoria of banned books being suddenly available as well as the (inevitable but depressing) influx of Western porn. Things aren’t simple but then they never were.

Over two decades later, this August,  Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich, three members of the punk band Pussy Riot were accused of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” and sentenced to two years in a labour camp for their oppositional punk prayer in the Temple of Christ Saint Saviour in Moscow.

“Absurdity’s on the increase/spirit wanes” writes the Slovenian poet Iztok Osojnik in Mister Today (Elsewhere  by Iztok Osojnik translated by Ana Jelnikar and Maria Jastrzębska (Pighog Press). Clearly governments continue to feel threatened enough by musicians or writers self to respond viciously.  Moscow has also banned Gay Pride for the next century, Warsaw banned it a few years ago but the ban has now been overturned.

Sitting comfortably in front of my PC at home it’s humbling to think of those behind bars for their words. English Pen has published an e-book anthology of poems for Pussy Riot CATECHISM: POEMS FOR PUSSY RIOT, edited by Mark Burnhope, Sarah Crewe & Sophie Mayer with an introduction by George Szirtes – a fitting title since the women are accused of being anti-Christian. I’m proud to have a poem in it.

http://www.englishpen.org/poems-for-pussy-riot-ebook/

On a smaller scale censorship succeeds when it gets inside our heads, whether in or outside the literary world.  I like writing workshops (both teaching them and going myself) – they’re a chance to trick the internal censor, to bypass authorial intention and discover things we might otherwise not have said. Here in the Developed World it’s impossible to calculate the exact weight of social/media pressure, except to say how profoundly it influences our choices, whether as writers or not.

“ …it is a

wonder we

can use the word free and have it mean anything at all to us. We          stand still let the cold wind wrap round …”

says American poet Jorie Graham in Dialogue/(Of The Imagination’s Fear) in P L A C E (Carcanet).

And it is no wonder that back in the 1970s and 1980s (in the West) revolutionary or separatist movements sprang up in an attempt to escape and create alternatives.  While in former Eastern Europe the concept of internal exile (self-created as opposed to state imposed) was developed. From the perspective of time we may see the task differently (apart from anything both literary and political styles change..) but having the word free mean something – that has got to be what do for ourselves.