in association with
dedicated to Samuel Taradash, OFF_PRESS’ official Goddamn Guardian Angel – find him at samueltaradash.com
in association with
ohmygod, a.k.a. Jacek Stefanowicz (a child of the late Eighties), is a handsome architect who also draws comics and the odd poster or two. No, actually, mainly comics. Though he is mortgaged up to the eyeballs, his car is sort of new. He likes drinking beer, dislikes wearing shorts, unless he is in the gym or some hot, southern end of Europe where the temperature is off the scale and no one sane would even think of wearing jeans, unless it was after dark and they were going to a disco to pick up tanned lovelies, though, in his experience, jeans won’t help jack with that if worn with flip-flops. He also fears electricity and poltergeists.
ohmygod – vel Jacek Stefanowicz – (ur. 1988 r.) przystojny architekt. Robi komiksy, czasem jakieś plakaty. Nie zawsze, głównie komiksy. Najczęściej jakieś projekty. Ma hipotekę na dwadzieścia lat, ale samochód z salonu. Lubi piwo, nie lubi krótkich spodni, chyba że jest na siłowni albo w jakiejś Turcji czy gdzieś, gdzie jest wpizdu stopni na plusie i nikt normalny nie lata w dżinach, może z wyjątkiem wyjścia na dyskotekę, żeby zarywać Turczynki, ale jeśli chcecie poznać moje zdanie, to nic ci po jeansach, jak pójdziesz w japonkach. Boi się prądu i duchów. www.penpen.jogger.pl
Marek Kazmierski, London 1/2011
I was recently quizzed by various people about Jerzy Giedroyc, the founder of a leading Polish-émigré literary-political journal, Kultura (1947–2000) and why he/it has no equivalent in Britain today. I rarely venture outside of London, almost never encounter the drunk/boor type of Pole in the UK, but do frequent cultural circles in what some term “our seventeenth county” (Poland itself has sixteen). I’ve seen a squat transformed into a remarkable theatre, a language school into an alternative gallery, an abandoned church into a showcase of photographic talent, all thanks to young artists from Poland living in London. I’ve also witnessed a handful of efforts from migrating writers and feel it is time to digest and analyse these – at the start of 2011, when it comes to Polish-language literary scene in Britain, there is little to write home about.
“In French post-war Polish circles it was said that the equivalent emigre cultural scene in London was lacklustre, without imagination, lost in itself, stewing in its own exiled bile. Something of this stuck, and seems to be continuing even today, the only difference being that once the audience was more accustomed to continuous engagement with cultural events – anything which was put on by Poles for Poles in London Poles would go see, without much discernment. Today, something special must happen to draw the crowds – the last person to make it work was Agnieszka Kucharko at the opening of the Homeless Gallery exhibition in the autumn of 2010. But please, forget about live literature, the audience is no longer there. There are random attempts at getting some sort of literary scene off the ground, all of which in some way or another struggle on without notice, or die quietly, so that no one, apart from their creators, remembers they ever existed … And so it goes on. A biblical kind of Chaos – out of which may arise, well, everything and anything. ”
Justyna Daniluk, journalist (West London)
Is the Polish language press in England is able to help? Cooltura, Goniec Polski, Polish Express, Link, Nowy Czas, etc. The titles of our journals published in Great Britain could be listed into infinity. All are the same – free weeklies, articles pasted between the ads, pictures downloaded from the Internet. The newspaper with the greatest circulation prints its sports sections not on its back pages, but up front, which speaks for itself. A short story or poetry may occasionally be sandwiched somewhere in between lonely heart ads and Polish satellite television listings at the back. Several years ago, the same magazine announced a literary contest. A jury made its choices. Certificates were handed out. At the request of the winners, the Polish Literary Club was established. A short while later, all its potential members received nine page contract to sign, obliging them to vote, pay subs and all manner of other bureaucratic clap trap, which ended the enterprise before it even began. The Polish White Eagle Club in Balham wanted £ 240 to hire a room for each of the Club’s meetings. The Polish Social – Cultural Centre in Hammersmith asked a tad less, but they’ve already been hosting meetings of the Association of Polish Writers On Foreign Soil since 1946.
“Many of our writers and poets here keep living in this ethos, mired in the mythology of emigration our literary ancestors found themselves exiled to. Writers like to feel sorry for themselves. For those young people who recently travelled here it is a stylistic device, like an item of clothing, a handbag, or a buckle. Something happening, something to talk or write about. You can be proud of this angst, may be tempted to write big words and symbols in a short story, or melancholy, morose verse. And the older generation? Those who actually emigrated here in times when more borders existed can not find themselves in a world which has changed and remain stuck in their old ways because they lack a reference point. This is our literary London. Some create closed circles, live in a proud past, none have written anything good in an age, but dimly remember a time when they could, and some of them very well indeed. Only those of their ilk are allowed to join their associations. Young people can not because they did not actually “emigrate” – no matter how much they might have wanted to. Some are too proud to attend events organised by others, others just gossip passively. All engage in that modern sport of networking only within their own peer groups, never beyond. As for actual writing there is little time, and so they invent new migrations, to give life its momentum. All sane writers have either long since died of lack of allies or gone over to write for publications back in Poland. But ‘ll leave them out of this, modern hybrids do not count. ”
Pawel Gawronski – poet, writer, musician (North London)
Polish bookshops? Orbis, the oldest in England, closed down a few years ago. Others tried to set up their little stalls, but internet bookshops killed them off. Literary magazines? One sprang up in London a few years ago, promising the world, or at least distribution in Polish news kiosks and a few issues were seen here and there, but once people found out its editor published his own stuff under pseudonyms, they quit taking it seriously. When you type its name into a search engine today, not even archives pop up. With all these wanderings one also meets interesting people, for example: Paul Gawroński, a bard and poet, with whom we have organised bilingual concerts across London, or Robert “The Fish” Rybicki, a poet now widely published in Poland, who lived here a few years ago, but was not even short-listed for the literary certificates I mentioned earlier. Rybicki brought a famous Polish poet over to London, but let’s not mention actual names, because the aforementioned squat/theatre where he was due to read was raided by police just moments before the event was due to start – someone there hit someone else kettle, and that someone then called the cops, the evening rounding off in a dire little pub, stripped of atmosphere, good music and any kind of poetry, leaving the well-known poet nursing a beer over a disgruntled half-smile.
Adding up all of the above gives us a big, fat, literary zero – no publications worth reading, no cultural magazines, no bookstores, no literary associations, nothing on the Internet even, which you would think, being free and widely accessible, would be the prefect forum for writers living abroad, tied down to menial jobs, separated from their literary peers, hungering to both read and be published in their native tongue. But how to create a literary scene when most of the Polish writers living in Britain whom I contacted in preparing this material are scattered across the island? Will the enduring legacy of Giedroyc’s Parisian “Kultura” ever be topped, or even repeated?
It seems there is no need for Poles to pray for a new Giedroyc. It’s enough to consider Dorota Masłowska, Poland’s most recent literary star. A few years ago, Soho Theatre staged her play “A Couple of Poor Polish-Speaking Romanians” in English translation, and as part of the Soho Talks series, I chaired a discussion on the theme of cultural engagement among Poles living in the UK. Not wanting to keep the discussion mono-national, we asked representatives from the Portuguese, Romanian and Russian communities to come along and join in the debate. And guess what? Everyone shares the same experiences. Official emigre organizations and newly set up independent groups do not talk to each other. Cultural centres are usually funded by wealthy immigrants and therefore rarely have anything to do with high culture. Generations of those who came in days of old and those newly arrived do not speak the “same language”. The larger the group of newcomers, paradoxically, the harder it is for them to communicate. Lost in the crowd, blending into the background, rather than come together and celebrate their own culture, Poles in the UK prefer to hide and not remind the locals of their presence here. And with us its always Chopin and the Pope and Solidarity. And all that sorrow and longing and the old saying “Poles are wolves to one another”. Interesting things seem to happen in the lives of migrant artists in the 21st century only when they come together with others, both natives and newcomer. Though it is not the same for everyone. Musicians or painters or photographers can access new audiences quickly – their works do not require translation, nor do they need linguistic proficiency to communicate and contextualise their work. But a poet? A writer? A journalist? They fall into a real creative no-man’s-land. The life of migrating writers is one of literal exile.
Welcome to Sunny Prestatyn
“I arrived on the Isle of Wight in 2006. A friend who travelled round England for two years told me that local picturesque coastal towns are all flourishing with cultural life: “You see all these events and festivals.” He just forgot to add that they are mainly festivals of tomatoes and garlic, or small-scale cycling events, etc. My head stuffed with pictures taken from British adventure novels, in July I alighted from the ferry, forgetting that in the middle of the last century, 75 miles south of London, Virginia Woolf decided to drown herself in the river Ouse, while Philip Larkin frequently mocked the parochial cultural life in the provinces of this Great Britain. After several months of staying on the Isle, I realized that in the pompously Victorian Ryde there is no literary scene. In its library I found an announcement that the luxury restaurant on the Esplanade at ten in the morning held a meeting of poets. Someone forgot to add to the leaflet that the pensioners due to meet that morning over a glass of wine would concern themselves solely with writing rhyming ditties for children. From my English language tutor I got the addresses of several local literary clubs. I wrote letters to all of them, but never received a response. Shortly after, I went to the theatre, having long dreamed of seeing my favourite “The Tempest” by Shakespeare done in the original, but the grand doors of the palace building on Lind Street were closed. On the bulletin board I read that later that week a troupe of actors from London would be putting on a “criminal farce”, followed by local artists staging a Christmas pantomime. For mysterious reasons, both plays were cancelled, a new poster advertising some sort of pop entertainer instead. Friends invited me one evening to the pub, where I read past pages of The Isle of Wight County Press, mentioning that a year ago they had hosted a poetry slam. That night, the pub was hosting a karaoke session, while a woman who looked eerily like Virginia Woolf puked into Victorian-era sewer gratings outside.
I decided not to submit, and in late December I went to Christmas meeting of the postwar Polish immigrants in Newport. After the religious service, everyone moved to a function room and immediately rushed to Swedish table set with Polish dishes, wolfing the lot down as if they had never seen poppy seed cakes or hunter’s stew before. One elderly man with flakes of coconut on his chin handed me a business card imprinted with the proud word “writer”, but this artist had written nothing in the past thirty years other than the script for a television series popular back in the days of the Polish Communist People’s Republic. After the vigil, someone with a strange accent began to recite the invocation of “Pan Tadeusz”. Ironically, it was not a Pole but an Englishman of Jewish origin. As it turned out, his Polish wife, whom he had married in the Eighties, had taught him parts of our national epic. They had wed because the bride desperately needed a visa – threatened as she was with deportation back to our then-occupied country. For three years, she had studied Polish philology in Krakow and, as befits the marriage of convenience rather than love, instead of spending their wedding night in the bedroom, she sat in the kitchen teaching him poetry, and after the legal papers were signed, left with a friend for the U.S. Sometimes, I meet him at the High Street. He sits on the bench and recites: Lytwo, oiczysno moia, ty jestes jak zdrowie. In summary, one can say: Thanks to attractive female students the British will occasionally get a taste of Polish literature.”
Wioletta Grzegorzewska, poet (Isle of Wight)
Robert Rybicki returned “home” a few years ago, where he is now regularly published in the most high-brow titles. With Marcin Piniak, a writer and photographer from Lodz, we founded OFF_Magazine as an on-line experiment in 2009, as an antidote to all this Polish language commershit. But the plan too ambitious, because we wanted to publish everything, in all languages, and upload movies, and music, and still have time to create our own things. Too much, too soon. Piniak too recently returned to Poland and published his first book, while I reset OFF_ by focusing on translations, film production and the publication of new indie books. In our first title, Anthologia / A Prequel Manifesto, you will find authors from four different continents, along with a free DVD film about a trip to Poland, shot by a German director and an American writer and me, a Brit-Pol hybrid. Our second book, METAL – Young Polish Artists, accompanied a recent art festival in Essex, and our third is a collection of contemporary Polish poetry in translation. A nice mix to kick off with.
Maybe in time we can work with major organizations / publishers in Poland, those who want to access book and film distibution to the West, create a small literary salon, print cheap but well-made books (digital printing allows this), produce movies and music CDs and electronic publications, become a sort of literary Polish “satellite”, a moon which reflects the light of the very best stuff written in Polish and translated into English by writers of Polish origin anywhere in the world. A world which has changed since the time of “paryska Kultura” and requires us to adopt new systems of thought. We read fewer books, but ever more on our phones and computers. Poetry does not matter like it did in times of wars and oppressions and occupations, but a lot is going on the poetry slam and literary festival scene, in both Poland and England. Many people sign up for creative writing courses and literary workshops. I receive more and more material written by Poles writing in English, brave enough to try on this new, and yet so familiar, language. After all, it is interesting narratives, not perfect grammar, which attract the attention and stimulate the imagination of readers, and writers who travel far should have plenty of those to share.
“I live in Dublin, Ireland. In this place I’ve ended up in, there is no literary scene, or even much of a construction workers scene for that matter. In any event, I’ve heard nothing about migrant literary initiatives, but maybe I myself am to blame because I haven’t really searched all that hard… Culture is here, but there is no money to fund it. Anything which does pop up is likely to be a self-financing grass roots initiative, and no let’s not forget we are living in times of a global financial crisis. If people buy any books, that’s most likely going to be a cookbook or some such. I cannot predict whether this type of initiative will continue and grow in today’s global village, without an real patrons, though I wish this were possible. Still, I have a New Year’s wish for 2011 – I wish the people of this sort of vision were able to communicate. For sure, there are still other people, groups similar to OFF_ and other insanely lonely knights of writing, like me, who think that they are an extinct species in these parts. I wish they could organize themselves around common initiatives. If The Kids Are United … A phrase admittedly borrowed from an entirely different story, but it fits like a glove. ”
Piotr Czerwinski, author of Pokalenie / Przebiegum Życiae (Dublin)
this must be my day of birth
eyes wide open nanny get gone
no more suckling at any breast
no chance for taking backwards steps
and so I snatch at my pen so fragile
the one always needs tying down with chains
else it’ll tear it’ll kick and it’ll howl
though I am a poet please live and let live
for God for me for you
why muddy the self struggle in the dirt
why hike cross town on a bus in the freezing cold
when a friendly hand will help you just write
this must be my day of birth
a wild cur chasing me through town
no more clutching at stones
my fault in it somewhere too
I see Cerberus approaching
his mouth watering gnawing consuming
he who guards the border between men and beasts
the Styx runs with water, the world just full of itself
a cover and a title and a font
we play chess though you know nothing of the throne
you wanted to dance, and have danced, and now need to shut your mouth
this train rides on, its wheels blazing, smoke and sparks
this must be my day of birth
a cricket playing his fiddle for an age now
the shadow of melody swaying slow
hanging as if it were a stolen verse
weaving and cutting and pasting
after all, even a toy can be the form in question
all we have in anthologies every single friend and foe
we’re in charge while you only have your God
you only have silence on your side
so don’t dither round yourself up in unions
and pay dues and clap hands emigrate form a club
it wasn’t poetry the poet married today
and so to live and labour and lounge
yet all I have to do – is write
you can take rob hide or simply burn to the ground
though no one can strip the poet’s taste in rhymes.
translated by Marek Kazmierski
|Paweł Gawroński Born in 1982. Following a quiet childhood, in a village near Włocławek, the capital of the Kujawy region, Pawel has always been busy writing, both poetry and prose. First published in May 2005, though in June of same year unfortunately had to leave Poland. His current residence is in the UK, where he struggles to continue his literary existence.|
|Paweł Gawroński Urodziłem się 5 października 1982 roku. Dzieciństwo spędzałem spokojnie, na wsi polskiej położonej niedaleko stolicy Kujaw-Włocławka. Od najmłodszych lat wiązałem swoje życie z pisaniem, czy to prozy, czy poezji. Zaowocowało to debiutem w maju 2005 roku. W czerwcu tej samej wiosny musiałem musiałem niestety opuścić kraj, stąd moja obecność na wyspie, gdzie staram się kontynuować zamiłowania literackie.|
I am lost. Now, I have to start believing in the one, common and holy pass which will lead me out of these lands. I stop at each and every crossing. I look to the left, look to the right, no cars, move along.
I avoid people whose hands are as dry as leaflets. Passing little girls dolled up for their First Communion, I smell the hairspray fixing plastic lilies in their hair.
Saps dissolve in the sinews of polished benches, the heatwave stretching pavements to braking point. I’m getting closer. Neighborhood women returning from afternoon mass. They do not sweat, because each summer water blooms in their blood, heavy with eternity.
A step or two east, or west, and all you see changes…
Who can, resting, slowly turn their confusion to clarity?
2006 -10 -01
Slowly, I am learning the streets of Ryde by heart. The nooks and the crannies of this town creep beneath my skin and into my irises. Some days, I wake at midnight and could swear voices speaking Polish are floating up from the street.
I was joking when I said that, in my altered state, I feel like Emanuel Swedenborg. I feel closer to ghosts than to the living. Daily thoughts escape me of late, same as my breasts evade my bra: engorged and pregnant with possibility. My dreams peopled with the dead. They come in the form of sedum shrubs, flower-people in stiff suits speckled with wax, wearing linen robes. Hanging above, trying to enter me, root by root. I recall other fragments of dream: indigo light from a gas lamp, a wooden tub filled with suds.
Sometimes, when writing about Poland, I find myself crying. When the tears come, my first reaction is to check myself for self-pity. Am I getting sentimental? Is it automatic need? Everyone needs a good sob now and then. Or is it the overwhelming power of my own prose that has me crying with joy?
Ignoring the comedy value of that last sentence, the answer is far from funny. Poland, it seems to me, has been raped by history. I know this is a dangerous, discomforting statement, and I’ll be contradicting it soon enough, but first let me elaborate.
In the spring of ’89, I had long hair and a mere seventeen years under my belt. Poland was readying itself for the now infamous June elections, set to kill off communism, though my father suspected that instead of freedom they would bring a swarm of Soviet tanks into our streets, not unlike previous such attempts had done in other parts of Central Europe, where they had tried to win their democratic freedoms the peaceful way. My father was a freedom fighter by trade, this of course before he learnt other, less confrontational forms of employ. He’d spent the last great War firing his home-made machine gun and blowing up trains. Unfortunately, the freedom fighting movement he had signed his life up to was supported by the Polish Government in Exile, then based in London. When the War ended and Red Rule begun, it was replaced by a government which did not look kindly on the likes of my father and his fellow partisans, all because they liked their freedom so much they were willing to fight for it.
And so, that fateful spring of ’89, my father took my seventeen year old self aside and said: Son, we are sending you on a little trip to London. When the tanks get here, you will stay over there, in exile, just like those lads who recently escaped in a long-distance lorry, and all will be well. Don’t worry about us, we’ll manage somehow.
Kiedy Polska weszła do Unii, wszyscy, zdawałoby się, myśleli tylko o tym ile rąk do pracy wyemigrowało m.in. na Wyspy Brytyjskie. Dzisiaj okazuje się, że ci, którzy wyjechali, to nie tylko bezwolni „fizyczni” do pracy na budowach, ale także tacy, którzy w warunkach emigracyjnych chcą stworzyć, ba, tworzą nową literaturę. Czy Polska to widzi? Niech Polska popatrzy.
OFF_Wywiad by Justyna Daniluk, dzis opublikowany w Zeszytach Poetyckich – kliknij na foto by czytac do konca…
So, after months of micro-hype, OFF_ served its first meal to the public on Thursday. Considering literary diners in London today are spoilt for choice when it comes to spoken word events, how did it all taste?
The ingredients (books, films, projector, screen, posters, etcrrrrra) which should have been ready weeks ago only arrived at the Bedroom Bar with hours to spare. The first guests were already sitting down when head chef Bartek Dziadosz got busy with his Mac pots’n’pans. Maitre d’ Marek Kazmierski, as is typical of catering staff, had had one too many by the time serving time came up. But at least the main dishes of the evening, Lilian Tietjen and Sam Taradash, were fresh and in plentiful supply.
Owner of the Deconstruction Project chain of art eateries, Aga Kucharko, flew in late to have all the furniture shoved around, posters put up and guests charmed.
ZERO, the début film by Pawel Borowski, is another example of the ongoing crisis in Polish screenwriting. What good is excellent direction, cinematography, acting or sound production – even if it is the best of its kind – if the most important organ in the body of the film – the script – is poorly thought through?
It’s not possible, thanks to its unusual narrative construction, to compress the plot of “Zero” down to a few lines. It seems the hub of this multi-layered story is the figure of the director of an unnamed company, who hires two rather wacky, down-at-heel detectives to follow his wife who, as we later learn, has rented a small apartment to host meetings with her lover. To spice up this narrative thread, Borowski dissects it with other plot lines: lingering shots direct our attention towards other characters – a taxi driver, newspaper seller, a nurse, a go-go dancer on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Initially, we follow these with interest, expecting something we haven’t yet seen before. The scope of this strategy brings to mind Anderson’s “Magnolia”, in the distance accentuated with echoes of Iñárritu and Arriaga. We are curious as to how this wildly varied group of individuals will be brought together by the all-powerful screenwriter’s pen.
Kinoteka Film Festival, 2010, triple film review
Let’s start this piece of vicious writing on a positive note. Nothing screened this year could be anywhere near as dire as Andrzej Wajda’s 2007 “Katyn”. I saw it in London last year, rooted to my cinema seat by the sheer awfulness of what I was witnessing – the dead-icon imagery, the sub-soap opera dialogue, the giant waste of the best acting talent Poland has to offer, the paper thin characters, the plot schisms, the editing mess… a few said it was good for Polish school kids to go see some of the history which communists had hidden for several generations, but school kids want their history strong and vital, not dumbed down and deathly dull.
It’s interesting to note none of the delighted reviews in the Guardian or Times or other high-brow publications actually talked about the film – they all focused on Wajda’s losing his own father in Katyn and about the moving theme of the story. Think I’m being insensitive and wickedly arrogant? Be honest, which is more important to you: what’s on at your local cinema today or what battles are being fought in the name of freedom, even as we speak? I sympathise with Wajda’s loss (both of my grandfathers had spent time in Nazi camps, though both survived), but films must be judged on merit and not personal feelings – if you are going to tackle big themes in your work, especially if it is reaching millions of impressionable hearts and minds, serve them well.
PIOTR SIWECKI: OFF_PRESS origins…
MAREK KAŹMIERSKI: Like so many memorable things in the world, OFF_ was born of bad blood. Marcin Piniak and myself (Marcin writing in Polish, I in English) met writing for Nowy Czas, a newspaper printed in London which had ambitions of being the highbrow choice for the emigre Polish community in the UK. Too bad it didn’t happen. We both quit the paper and kept on drinking, moaning, dreaming. But that gets tiresome after a while, so this time last year Marcin, Kinga Pilich (a young publishing student) and myself set up OFF_Magazine, an on-line bilingual literary journal. It was meant to tell as many stories in as many languages (literal, visual, multi-sensory) as we could find, but such big nets are hard to handle. We got submissions from all over the world, some great stuff, some worse than woeful. Then we decided to run an international writing competition, then publish an anthology of the short-listed writers, then make a film to go with it, then run some literary events to publicise the whole shebang…
They say you are the voice of the most recent wave of Polish migration…
That voice means over two million desperados, if I correctly recall the latest statistics. They speak for themselves, with their own voices. In fact it’s more than speech, they shout, though no one seems to want to listen or is pretending not to. I only speak for some, perhaps unwittingly for others, but certainly not in the name of them all. In fact, I’m pretty sure I only speak for myself! But thank you for the compliment. Without reverting to metaphor, I think it’s quite a responsibility, to speak on behalf of others, especially in the name of a vast group of others. Also, belonging to such a group is a challenge. All my life I’ve avoided being “part” of anything like the plague. I’ve never identified with anyone and anything else, refused to make declarations, display emblems, wear ideals on my sleeve. I was afraid my independence would be lost, which is after all not to be surrendered. But it’s only since I emigrated that I finally realised that I do identify with some kind of “crowd”, that I belong to it, and that I’m actually proud of the fact, that it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It happened when I was watching the news on British television and heard a newsreader say something about Poles, maybe even “the Polish problem” in this part of the world, as it seems a few people are fans of this phrase. And then I understood that I am one of these Poles. One of them, one of US. This was hard, trust me, it cut me in half. Being cut in half is another thing which I’ve avoided like the plague, for as long as a I could.
In “Przebiegum Życiae” I pose the question: “Are we different? No, hell, not at all. Only our surnames are spelt different, but this means nothing, no one can pronounce them anyway, no one apart from us. We are the union of many in one, one person who’s received a collective kick up the arse…”