I’ve lost two hats and a little seahorse necklace which was very special. I mean literally. The necklace probably fell through a crack in the floorboards at Fabrica. Jackie says it has swum back to the sea. (Less literally.) I wonder if my brain will ever stop teeming. Or should I be grateful for the rush of thoughts ever since I embarked on this residency?
Thank goodness Jackie Wills, http://jackiewillspoetry.blogspot.co.uk, wonderful poet and friend was appointed to mentor me through the early stages. Despite a natural inclination to fierce independence I had the strongest urge simply to cling to her. Everyone at Fabrica is helpful; they don’t seem to mind that in stereotypical poet fashion I’m clueless about hashtags & the like. (See, I’m using my new language any chance I get.)
The launch of the exhibition – a film of Etel Adnan – was packed with The Otolith Group there to give a talk about it. Sadly Etel couldn’t come over from Pariswhere she now lives. I really wanted to meet her. Most people I speak to haven’t heard of her before, which says something about women’s invisibility to me. She is a woman in her eighties, Arab/American, Lebanese, a lesbian and an internationally acclaimed writer and artist. I want to celebrate all those things – the different hats she wears or doesn’t wear as the mood takes her, I like to think. Not that you always have a choice about hats.
The Otolith group said Etel Adnan’s poem The Sea releases us from the constraints of identity. True. No one wants to be pigeon-holed, their work reduced by arguments ad hominem, just as no artist should be expected to represent a whole group. Poet, friend John McCullough – we founded Queer Writing South together – wrote a smashing article in The Wolf magazine (number 20) called ‘I Am Not A Gay Writer’ on this.
And yet, call me an old-fashioned politico, something in me resists the tyranny of the universal…or maybe the pressure to prove a universal appeal. Can you imagine a heterosexual novelist worrying they have too many straight characters in their latest book? Years ago when my first poems were published my mother refused to come to the launch saying it was pure lesbian propaganda…while a certain women’s bookshop wouldn’t promote the book saying it was neither lesbian nor feminist enough… Sometimes identity is in the eye of the beholder.
It’s fascinating to me how people define themselves – what hats they do or don’t want to wear. I have Polish friends working hard to maintain Polish communities here in the U.K, others who want nothing to do with them. The answers I’m starting to get on this blog along with handwritten ones at the gallery are inspired!
But for now I have to put aside ramblings on identity and cross a different border. I will be Pani, an older woman, in my Polish oral examiner hat this week – a Them to the Us of nervous students. It will be all I can do to stop myself asking them : Where do you come from? What’s the purpose of your visit? Do you have anything to declare?
In the end it comes down to not trying too hard. Remember e.e cumming’s poem which begins: maggie and milly and molly and may/ went down to the beach (to play one day)? And as for lost hats or a seahorse swimming back to where it came from, the poem ends: For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)it’s always ourselves we find in the sea.