Archives for posts with tag: queer writing

The film Frozen which you, or your children, surely know, was loosely based on it. Interpretations, deliberate feminist ‘misinterpretations’*, artistic, musical, film, scholarly and literary takes on it abound – a story written almost 175 years ago. I got together with 2 other Polish-connected artists, Dagmara Rudkin, a visual artist, and composer Peter Copley along with other artists including photographer Wendy Pye and director Mark Hewitt to create a re-imagining of the Snow Queen story by Hans Christian Anderson. Our project SNOW Q will culminate in a pilot installation at Winter Solstice in Brighton. The original story is many-layered, (actually seven stories in one), rich in symbolism and full of astonishing characters not least the evil Snow Queen at the centre of it. Yet how ambivalent everyone is about her power!

Is she a strong woman taking her strength for granted or is she a disturbed mother-figure? A victim herself? Beautiful? (whose terms?) Seductive? A fashion icon? Grasping ruling class tyrant? Force of nature? Death? Depression?

And how is my work changing as I work with other artists and different groups? Thinking about it while the sun is shining here in the UK is strange in itself. I find I’m here but also elsewhere much of the time…perhaps not unusual after all. 

Thanks to an Arts Council Research and Development grant we have started working on this collaborative project and are documenting the process on a blog specially for it:

If you haven’t already seen it please have a look and if you know which buttons to press follow us. As there’s several of us involved it’s going to be a more regular and intense blog than these random musings. I’ll be focusing there for a while but will come back to this blog in the end. (So don’t hang up!)

*Pauline Greenhill, Women’s and Gender Studies Department, University of Winnipeg, Canada


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.



A funeral and then a visit to Warsaw since my last blog.   All that is another story…

…for now I’m still thinking about the censors inside our own heads.  Every creative workshop is about trying to outwit them. How easy it is to spoil an idea with anxiety about its success or failure.

I have two friends – let’s call them Tom and Jerry. Tom’s book has just been short-listed for a prestigious prize.  On the strength of that he’s been offered a book tour and is meeting authors and festival organisers and getting more invitations.  His confidence is buoyed up and he’s already started a new manuscript.  Jerry thought he’d got the big break when a renowned agent enthusiastically approached him for his manuscript and said he’d get a publishing contract in no time.  Three years down the line the agent is no longer returning Jerry’s calls while other agents say the book is excellent but it’s a difficult time… Jerry decides to give up writing altogether.  Life’s short and the sense of failure is making him too miserable but he then finds he can’t actually stop writing.  Something makes him keep going even though he isn’t getting anywhere…  Which of these two artists will do better in the long run?  Is it a foregone conclusion?  Will Tom become complacent and stop honing his skills or he will he blossom with all the encouragement and attention? Will Jerry become so depressed he can’t see his projects through or will rejection spur him to write even better?  What’s next?

I expect you know Tom and Jerry too.  Maybe you identify with one of them?  Tom-everybody’s-darling or Jerry the also-ran – or maybe with both of them?

We artists like to think we’re above all that.  Surely all we want is to focus on our own creativity, not worry if our work is a) any good and b) marketable.  But we do.  And there are electricity bills to pay.  And we’re living in a society utterly obsessed with success and failure.  (It should be a double noun: Successfailure.) Singing, ballroom dancing, baking, going on a date, putting an outfit together, bush tucker trials, losing weight, living in a house – everything is a competition.  One of my favourite recent books is The Hunger Games, a young adult novel by American writer Suzanne Collins – thrilling social commentary on competitiveness taken to its extreme.

So there’s something very gratifying knowing J.K Rowling got half a dozen rejections from publishers before placing Harry Potter and – at the other end of the spectrum – that Polish poet Wisława Szymborska, who died earlier this year, referred to winning the Nobel Prize as the ‘Stockholm tragedy’, because it held up her writing for a few years while she was fêted by all the media.

Why write about this slightly embarrassing and ignoble topic?  (It’s a bit like talking about an itchy infection with a nasty smell.)  Why admit to my own sleepless nights of corrosive anxiety – feeling I am the only one foolish enough to be worrying this much whether I have truly ‘nailed it/made it my own/given it 110 per cent etc’?  Why?  Because it’s there.