Maria’s 9th blog – How do you draw a line?

This is my last blog as Fabrica’s Spring show animateur. Can you believe it?

How do you know when something is really finished? You’d think for writers it would be when it’s published – but even then…not necessarily! Do visual artists find it any easier or harder to say: that’s it I’m done?

Actually there is still a bit more uploading to do and one of the volunteers is going to make a page with the handwritten answers people wrote at the gallery, so I will be around a bit longer and if you haven’t answered my questions yet you could still put a comment in.

In Polish books the contents page usually goes at the back. If I had to write a contents list for my residency I would be blogging forever.

Last week was incredibly busy. More serendipity – I was asked to teach a conference of secondary school teachers at the British Library for their current Writing Britain exhibition. The theme: writing about place, and my section – guess what? – Waterlands. Fragments of text and sounds from the exhibition are swirling round in my head: Graham Greene’s ‘dark poison bottle green’ water round the Pier, Kennneth Graham quoted as saying the river is a babbling procession of stories ‘taken from the heart of the earth and told to the insatiable sea’..Alice Oswald’s ‘river mutterings’..the crossing of water leading us to transition or transgression, destruction or cleansing…all the lost and found voices of the sea.

You can hear the voices of the young people at Allsorts Youth Drop-In on their own page. They came up trumps : https://unquietborder.wordpress.com/allsorts/ with individual and collaborative writing and recordings of answers to my 3 questions. A huge thank you to Tracey at Fabrica for making this happen. I am still painfully slow uploading anything, but I have, to my surprise, enjoyed the techie side of my residency. There is something very liberating for me as a word-person in playing with actual images (even my amateurish holiday snaps) and sounds. I recommend wandering along the seafront or wherever you live with a digital recorder switched on.

I managed to squeeze in some last minute dressing up at the Queer Writers Fabrica evening which incidentally was a lovely meeting of minds, more pictures below.

One of the Queer Writers brought in an amazing poem by a young Syrian poet Tal al- Mallhouli in prison, you can read it on:

http://www.englishpen.org/syria-blogger-and-poet-sentenced/

At one of the Open Houses I met an artist from Chile making scuptures from black, leathery seaweed (www.lisemoller.cl)

In between panicking about finishing off my residency I also thought about what it means being a poet-animateur among visual art folk. In the U.K especially you are forced to specialise far too early – arts v science – and in the arts world we often get stuck in our own constituency. Poets talk to other poets etc…My grandfather called himself an architect-artist and saw no contradiction there, no ‘either or’. Talking to some of the artists who’ve come into the gallery I see many like to cross over between different genres/media. One of the best things I saw in the Fringe this year was Mark Hewitt’s scrublands down in the old police cells of Brighton Town Hall, a performance which included music by Peter Copley and projected images, paintings and video sequences. (www.mchblank.co.uk) A raw study of inbetweeness, combining humour and seriousness.

But it’s all happened much too fast and I can’t quite believe I’m not going to be living and breathing my residency anymore. I feel too close up to draw conclusions. I’d like to do it all again slowly. Everything has been like little streams then bigger rivers flowing towards that insatiable sea. And now I’m sailing off towards somewhere else.

Thank you to everyone at Fabrica for your friendly help and generous supplies of halva. Thank you to Fabrica’s funders for the opportunity to work and be paid – it’s not very English to mention the vulgar subject of money but I don’t know a single artist for whom this is not an issue.

Most importantly thank you, dear reader, for taking part and interacting with me whether by reading or writing or both and especially if words aren’t really your thing. Sometimes I’m not sure words are my thing either, despite being totally obssessed with them! They seem too small or too clumsy – pebbles hurled at the sea in frustration. But trying to do something with them is humbling, exhilarating – that rollercoaster ride somewhere on the border between impossible and maybe.



Maria’s 8th Blog – How do you say your name?

A friend of mine’s brother is changing his Polish name to a shorter English version now that his wife is pregnant with their first child. His parents are devastated that their grandchild will not have their name. Don’t even get me started on why the young wife has already given up her own name and why in the 21st century women still take a man’s name in the first place.

For years my partner thought her family name was Scottish and always looked for ‘their’ tartan on any trip only to learn one day that their original name had been Jewish, changed to fit in better and not from a Scottish clan at all.

My grandparents were known by more than one name which confused me as a child – they’d been on the run first from the Gestapo then the Communists.

You probably know more stories like these? It has crossed my mind that I might be more successful as an artist if people in this country knew how to say my surname. I’m not about to change it. But you can now learn how to say it by clicking on the soundfile below.

Stakes differ for those crossing borders. Many people still lose their lives, livelihoods, languages, names and identities and are faced with life and death choices about where to remain. Once they leave they can’t go back, for fear of political reprisals,imprisonment or because they simply can’t afford their passage back and forth.

Whereas for others the sea we cross represents adventure, a way forward to the exploration of new ideas. And for some of us it’s a mixture of both, genuine choice and pressure – a release from feeling stifled or a loss of the communities we grew up in – bringing ordinary moments of awkwardness, excitement.

In the Spring issue of Poetry Wales Ágnes Lehóczky writes about ‘impromptu intersections’ and that ‘third’ ‘hybrid’ dialect arising from them between her native Hungarian and her second language, English, which she now writes in. I could really identify with her piece, though my Polish is a younger self’s language as I grew up over here. I’ve always believed poetry creates language of its own and, at best, transcends social boundaries. In a sense all the art we create is hybrid, a movement between then and now as so many of you have expressed in the beautiful, inspiring answers you have been sending in to my 3 questions. Keep them coming!

There is still some time left (said without a trace of panic in her voice) in my residency which has become like a giant creative writing workshop itself that you are all taking part in. Soon you will be able to see the materials from the fantastic Allsorts youth workshop last night – currently being uploaded as I write and tonight it’s the Queer Writers Show and Tell evening at Fabrica! Dot dash dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dash dot dot dash! or just: …!

Maria’s 7th post – Halva!

I wrote a poem a while ago which mentions Halva – a favourite childhood sweet. I now realise I should write many more poems in praise of Halva. It is the most delicious and wondrous thing. I’d asked Fabrica if they could provide some Arabic (in honour of Etel Adnan) and Polish (me) refreshments for my creative writing workshop Write Across The Border. They came up trumps and there in the middle of the table was حلوى‎ or chałwa, a dessert found in so many countries and cultures, Arabic, Jewish, Middle Eastern, North African, Asian, Maltese, Balkan, East European… Think how many borders it has crossed! I declare it the official food of this residency.

I’ve been collecting sounds in Brighton and around Stranraer and you’ll be able to hear them soon on the Sounds page. I used these sounds in the workshop. I also wanted people to respond to voices speaking languages they didn’t know and by a lovely coincidence – more serendipity – artist Jane Fordham http://www.janesybillafordham.com/ had decided to do exactly the same in her drawing workshop. She recorded me reading in Polish and other people reading Greek, Spanish, Catalan, Italian and Neapolitan poetry and gave me a copy to use. So the workshop participants became travellers straining to make sense of what they could hear but not understand, discovering their own meanings, which they did beautifully. Some of the results will appear on this blog on the Workshop page.

Next week, on Tuesday May 22nd, John McCullough, Tracey from Fabrica and I will be working with young people at Allsorts Youth Project – we’ll be uploading their contributions live that very night. Exciting! Then on Wed 23rd May it’s Border Lines the Queer Writers Show and Tell evening I’m hosting at Fabrica (see Events page for details).

This will be a discussion and sharing workshop, not a writing one – about the borders you cross as someone identifying as LGBT. Everyone’s bringing a short piece they’ve written and something by someone else which somehow spoke to them. This second piece doesn’t have to be by a queer writer. One of the things I’ve thought a lot about is how in our hunger for representations of our lives we insert our own meanings into texts. That word insert always sounds full of dreadful innuendo to me. Oooogh, er, madam! But everyone does it. Reading is never passive. We bring our own associations to everything. How quickly people at my writing workshop were able to ‘translate’ poems from languages they couldn’t understand. Our own memories and imagination are ready to supply meanings and fill in the gaps at the drop of a hat. As queer folk, we just do this more. When I was growing up you had to scour books for the slightest hint of lesbian love. Now there is a body of queer literature young people can access much more easily. But in terms of the curriculum or mainstream media, images of our own lives are still few and far between. Add other dimensions to that – ethnic/racial diversity, images of older people say – and the gaps grow even wider. Rachel O’Connell who lectures at Sussex University gave me this quote from Jewish & gay screenwriter Arthur Laurents (in Vito Russo’s The Celluloid Closet):

“I think all minority audiences watch with hope. They hope that they will see what they want to see. That’s why nobody really sees the same movie.”

So Border Lines will be an evening with us in centre place, definitely at the Captain’s Table – to share ideas and food. I’m hoping there will be halva…

Maria’s 6th blog – Write Across The Border

I’ve borrowed the talented John McCullough http://www.johnmccullough.co.uk/ from Queer Writing South to help me run a workshop at Allsorts Youth Project as part of my residency – watch this space for some younger voices. Meanwhile I am running some workshops at Fabrica itself.

John and I looked up the meanings of ‘declare’ – the first is to announce something solemnly, the second to reveal one’s intentions or identity. No wonder some of you are posting a vague sense of guilt or anxiety in response to my third question: Do you have anything to declare? (See Questions on this blog.) The word solemn gets a bad press. So I’m grateful to be reminded on Clare Pollard’s blog http://clarepollard.com/) about Ahkmatova’s Requiem and that poetry “is needed to bear witness. To pay attention to the individual, to the specifics of human life, in a way news-reports rarely can.” And who better to bear witness than those who cross borders?

One aspect linking all the work at Fabrica this Spring is the voice, in the Otolith Group’s film of Etel Adnan reading, in Invisible Flock’s Sea of Voices. Timely when visual image is privileged everywhere (albeit in a commercially exploitative way).

As animateur I am focussing on sounds and language, moving away from literal meaning to reach something on the tip of our tongues, something we think we hear but can’t quite explain. Water carries our voices, memories. Yesterday the sun came out so I walked along the seafront. Just listening & listening: bands playing, snippets of conversation, gulls squawking, kids shouting, crying. All of it in with the sound of the water.

What’s it like being animateur aboard Fabrica? This whole week it’s felt like I’ve been invited to dine at the Captain’s Table. Drinking in all those sounds. And I also got to go to the Poetry Library. I’m like a kid in a sweetshop whenever I go. Fellow writer and friend Pascal O’Loughlin who works there had prepared me various reading suggestions. Christopher Reid’s lost voices of flooded villages, Marjorie Argosin’s island woman, Lindsey Adams’ still photos of waves – the paradox – with Michelene Wandor’s words…I feasted & feasted. Then sat and looked out through the fluffy new green of the trees along the walkway at the Thames, thinking about its journey to the sea. Will I write something directly about the sea or will all these ideas just gradually seep into my work, pop up again years later? I don’t know. I don’t know. There is so much material to choose from and every moment, every sensation, thought or emotion is actually a subject worth writing about.

Do you believe in magic? I do. That’s why I run workshops and attend them myself. Nothing, nothing, nothing then something. You surrender not so much to the workshop leader’s will as to your own creativity, process. There’s that word again, process. The first workshop I’m running at Fabrica is Write Across the Border this Wednesday May 16th at 7.15 – all are welcome – just let Fabrica know. (Click on the Events page of this blog for details.). How do we ever manage to create anything if not by magic? So sharpen your pencils, bring along your notebook or Ipad or whatever you write on. Your animateur/bartender-in-residence will serve you a heady mix of (unliteral) cocktails and there will also be refreshments (literally).

Maria’s 5th blog – Dash, dot dot dot dot, dot dash, dash dot, dash dot dash, dot dot dot!

Czuj czuj, czuwaj!

If you are having difficulty deciphering the title and then the first line of this post, unlike me, you obviously weren’t a Polish Girl Scout in your youth. Never mind, nobody’s perfect.

The title is in Morse code and means Thanks, (the first line’s a Polish scout greeting.) I count having included Morse code in some of my poems as one of my biggest poetic achievements to date!

Why Morse code? Apart from the fact that I’ve always loved the idea of translating secret messages into lights that could wink across a dark sea, and without spoilers: check out Invisible Flock’s walk from Fabrica to the Marina http://fabrica.org.uk/exhibitions/invisible-flock/. Well worth going right to the end even though it was raining.

Why Thanks? It’s too early in my residency to be thanking people but I don’t care, I want to. First I want to thank the wonderful army of Fabrica volunteers who are encouraging visitors to the gallery to answer my Three Questions on the cards there. Secondly, thanks to everyone who is sending in answers whether on this blog under Questions or in the gallery. Have you read each others answers?

You’ve been arriving: without so much as a second glance from seeing Kinetica Bloco, tunnels, semi-detached existence, night & convention, make-believe, the edge of the world, Ealing (same thing?), Hamburg, heaven, a sea of memories, Yorkshire, Ostia Lido, Up North, just off the M62, Cyprus, sun, a crowd of women, from inside, from mothers, evasive fathers, the past, the unknown, a puzzle, a roller coaster ride…carrying songs, sonnets & childhood baggage, a suitcase of doubts, fear, without looking where you’re going…declaring green, imprints, secrets, hair colour, a trillion cells, the mind mined, love, language, lust & kindness, confusion, passion, truth, uncertainty… your purpose to gaze at the nape of her neck, to grow vegetables, to listen, struggling between the place you’re from and where you live, loving the Third Quartet, disagreeing, travelling light, crossing borders of hesitation, through the Green Zone, looking for a way out…

Don’t assume all you see is all I am (says Roo). It’s true, we have no idea what stories people have to tell. Being an artist in residence I’ve decided is a bit like being a bartender – people tell me their stories. Let’s say it’s a bar on the good ship Fabrica. People wander in, swaying on sea legs. Some love the adventure, some are feeling queasy.

I have done two of my meet-the-bartender-in-residence sessions already. (Please go to Events for details of the next, May 16th, May 23rd and May 27th). The first one was before the Festival, quieter, though there was already a steady trickle of people coming in to watch the Otoliths’ film, plus some who came specially to see me which was lovely. Then last Saturday it was so packed with the start of Brighton Festival I practically had to fight my way in saying Let me through I’m an animateur… What I do is go up to unsuspecting art lovers (casually, as if I were collecting empty glasses) and ask them if they’d like to answer some soul-searching questions about the meaning of life. Blow me down! They are as game as bagels and all say yes. Thanks awesome public!

They say heart-breaking stuff like the person who liked their life here but said everything looks wrong & they wished they’d never left their own country. Or another who wrote declaring they felt numb and didn’t belong anywhere. And Kitty on my Questions asks: I have to wonder, though, if it was actually braver to leave it all behind. So it’s not all plain sailing. Though one of my first visitors declared Maths to be beautiful… If you haven’t already done it, send me your answer, you can have more than one go, you could adopt another identity. Or perhaps you already have? Dash, dot dot dot dot, dot dash, dash dot, dash dot dash, dot dot dot!*

*Ok, I googled it – I am not a fluent Morse coder.

Maria’s 4th post – Wee buzzard, muckle question

Sky, sea, everything feels too small after the high rhins and broad machars, long beaches and bays of south-west Scotland where I had a couple of days and endless space to think. Strange that we were so far north of Brighton but still south in Scottish terms – borders alter your whole perspective.

I miss the buzzard which daily visits the field at the back of our friend’s house. It’s a juvenile, daft enough to be scared of the foals which lollop through the same field. Will it manage to catch the scraps she throws it, or will the crows and gulls get there first?

I’ve been reading Scottish poet Gerry Loose and Swedish poet Lennart Sjörgren writing about the shifting line between sea and land in Northwords Now (northwordsnow.co.uk). Poems that alter their shape before your eyes. The Otolith Group whose piece is currently exhibiting at Fabrica said they wanted “to show the sea without showing the sea” – this phrase has stayed with me. They filmed Etel Adnan mostly from the back, (to my mind suggesting vulnerability) and said they wanted people to really listen to the words she’s reading. Didn’t want to hand us an image of the sea on a plate, they wanted the audience to do the work. (You can watch the talk on Fabrica’s website: http://fabrica.org.uk/exhibitions )

This brings me to my big question: how much work do you/we want to do as an audience? I’d love your comments on this, as well as answers to the Questions on this blog. This question is fairly central in the development of my work. I’ve been told people like my poems because they’re plain, direct and people can understand them. This is immensely gratifying. There’s a danger, though, of then wanting to carry on pleasing my audience. And it begs the whole question – is a poem something you understand? Etel Adnan’s poems are not immediately easy to understand. I can’t help feeling in that ‘everything happens for a reason’ way that she has been sent to me as a role model of an artist who is uncompromising. She is not trying to win anyone over, her meanings aren’t always clear. Poems to immerse, lose yourself in and that’s exciting. A poem, an artwork is also a space, an experience. In an era of fast food, sound-bites, of a take-away, throw-away, instant gratification mentality it seems worthwhile to create a space where an audience might linger, somewhere a buzzard might grow to spread its wings.