Archives for posts with tag: Queer Writing South

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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IMG_4306What a shame you’re going to miss the fire in the brothel, my friend said to me when I arrived. I understood every word but had no idea what she was talking about – she meant Pożar w Burdelu, the hottest (sic) cabaret in Warsaw. What was it like being in my birth town? Hot and cold I tell everyone and the weather did indeed range from sleeveless tops to jumpers but we poets always mean something else as well, don’t we. It’s different when I go to France, for instance. I meekly accept that I can’t remember how to form the subjunctive and will be regarded with suspicion as a foreigner, but in Poland…I hear my mother telling us kids off for becoming too much like the English. I feel somehow not Polish enough. I run around trying to see as many people and things as possible, have to be reminded constantly which tram to take where, am fed at every opportunity regardless of what time I turn up and shown such hospitality and warmth it makes me cry even thinking about it. This year it was strawberry season. And I mean STRAWBERRIES, not the paler imitation. Strawberries with whipped cream, with vanilla ice cream, in sugary syrup, in cake, au naturel…IMG_4348

Before I knew it, it was time to fly home and now I’m in back in Brighton I feel somehow more Polish again. Every day I miss speaking my mothertongue. That’s just the way it is.

Last year on a panel at eMigrating Landscapes at UCL poet Steven Fowler asked writer and translator Marek Kazmierski and myself if we identified as Polish writers. Marek – with a more Polish accent than mine- said No, I, in my native-speaker sounding English, answered Yes. Afterwards we talked about this and both agreed it wasn’t that simple and really we both meant Yes and No at the same time. If I flick back through the books I’ve written they’re crammed full of Polishness, though written in English, from the perspective of living outside Poland.

Many writers are reluctant to be confined to any identity. Besides when you live in ‘your own’ country you rarely think of yourself as having a particular identity unless you happen to belong not to the mainstream culture but to a minority. Identity is usually talked about in relation to those outside the dominant culture or if you are visiting another culture when you suddenly acquire that ambassador role. Can you imagine a new novel being described as depicting white culture or telling a heterosexual love story? (And yet how many discussions have we had about whether there is such a thing as queer writing or not at Queer Writing South events!) When I give readings abroad I am usually billed as a British poet. Here often as a Polish poet, sometimes a queer poet.  At the wonderful London bookshop Gay’s The Word the policy is that novels need some gay characters whereas poetry is left, so to speak, an open book…Next week I’m reading at Have A Word in Brighton and then at Felixstowe Book Festival where I’ll be talking with writer and journalist Ziemowit Szczerek about Polish writing. Is there such a thing? I wonder what we will decide.