Maria’s 3rd post – Shyness & serendipity

Meet the artist in residence at Fabrica

Meet the artist in residence at Fabrica

Maria’s 3rd post  – Shyness & Serendipity

 I am two people (at least).

Poets are shy creatures, lurking in secret places like crabs under the rocks. It takes us years to write a single poem sometimes. I weigh every word, edit, re-draft before I submit for publication.  A blog’s different. You write something and off it goes into the world.

Some poets are also party animals. I’ve been a communicator ever since I can remember. I talk to everyone. I teach. I give readings. I recently co-compèred an International Women’s Day cabaret in a lamé dress and silly hat.

An odd balance this private and public thing.  Writing is strictly private. I’ve always marvelled at artists who let you watch them sculpting or making some exquisite piece of pottery or jewellry. Noooooo!  As the Fabrica animateur I feel exposed, like I’m in a glass-house – a Sea-Life Centre? (Actually I love our Brighton Sea-Life Centre, seahorses, little crabs, turtles…)

Friends have given up asking me what I’m doing in the residency, now they want to know what I’m going to do with the responses to the questions on my blog. So I have to think of something Very Quickly. I speak to Liz, one of Fabrica’s co-directors. She says it’s about me having the space to think and reflect as an artist.  She forbids me to rush or deliver a product. That makes me want to cry.

(There’s a Polish children’s rhyme about Samochwała, a girl (yes) who boasts. It doesn’t end well for her. You must never boast. And the flip side is the artist’s inferiority complex – why would anyone want to know about my artistic process?)

The Otolith Group said they wanted to avoid all the usual clichés about the sea when they made their film essay for Fabrica. I am still all at sea. Drowning in clichés. That’s an inevitable part of the process I know from experience.  But do you tell people about that? Process, sshmocess!

Friendy coincidences are at hand. Lee Hardwood shows me a book of Ruth Stones’ poetry. It just happens to contain a poem called Where I Come From which starts:

My father put me in my mother/but he didn’t pick me out. 

Iztok Osojnik emails from Ljubljana with papers from an European writers conference in Warsaw 2008 on crossing borders.

Jackie Wills and I have found whole books called Purpose of Your Visit including another friend’s, River Wolton’s, collection.

Robert Hamberger reminds me of the late Adrienne Rich’s poem Prospective Immigrants Please Note which starts: 

Either you will go through this door/or you will not go through. 

If you go through/there is always the risk

of remembering your name.

And a student at Middlesex University interviewing me for a poetry project asks again about my process & why I started writing, so I say something about the sheer delight of making a mark, on paper initially. As I said, communication comes naturally to me. And poetry/art – it’s all about communication, right? Or is it? To be continued…




Maria’s 2nd post – 2 hats and a seahorse

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,, 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. 

Maria’s first post – a prequel

Witam serdecznie! Welcome to my blog unquietborder!

I have hit the ground running.

During April and May 2012, as artist in residence at at Fabrica I will be exploring the idea of the sea as a border between countries, cultures and languages.

The Spring exhibition at Fabrica is I See Infinite Distance Between Any Point and Another – an intimate film portrait by The Otolith Group of incredible poet, painter and philosopher Etel Adnan reading extracts from her poem The Sea.

I’m a poet who writes about borders. Once you start thinking about borders you see them everywhere. Just cross a threshold. I went through the wooden door into the Fabrica office where everyone was speaking a new language. What was my line of enquiry for the residency they wanted to know.  My mind went blank – all I could think of was Lund’s jumper or Montelbano’s espresso…  I asked my partner, who works in academia, line of enquiry? she said, of course everyone knows that. Since then I’ve been trying to ‘interpret’ for friends who want to know what exactly you ‘do’ in a residency, do you have to sleep there? one friend asked -perfectly logically.

I am hoping to broaden and deepen my understanding of borders and I hope you will help me to do this. Please go the Questions page of my blog. I’m curious what borders you pass in your lives, what seas you have crossed, in every sense. I’m off on my journey. Come with me!