Few questions from the meeting....
Ula Chowaniec: Why fiction rather than poetry? Is this language better to write the story? Is this connected to the migrant's experience and the need to re-tell one's own story again and find ground to start a new life?
Wiolletta Greg (Wiola): I’ve noticed that I often give conflicting answers to this question. Sometimes I think that I write less poetry because of losing the connection with the Polish language. When you pass through so many places in your life, you become split between them. A Bacillus of Stories becomes born within you, like in Odysseus, almost like the desire to record everything as a mean of defence against loss? Maybe. I don’t know. During moving you lose everything: friendships, photos, letters, notes, items – and so you feel like you have to tell stories so those items still live within you, and others. But how? I don’t think all this baggage would fit in poetry.
Ula: Political and existential question: is your writing and your experience of Britain in any way affected by recent political turmoil, the unexpected perspective of Brexit, the new status of migrants?
Wiola: Before the Brexit referendum, I moved from the Isle of Wight to a post-industrial town on the edge of river Thames. 83% of people voted “leave” in this town. That was a shock for me. Swastikas on walls, racist graffiti – which got ignored by the police and attacks on me in front of a local convenience store. I was scared to cross the park at night and avoided speaking Polish in public, as it was dangerous.
I described my mood in a symbolic story: „Stag Beetles”.
My town forgot about the June referendum; despite the wall between a school and a playground being covered in orange graffiti of swastikas. No one reacts, as if the symbols suddenly became a part of the landscape.
Today, the biggest attraction of our neighbourhood was a swarm of Stag Beetles, invading the pavements. Girls were screaming at the sight of the 2 inch bugs. Boys were searching for stones.
I run outside of the house and despite not knowing the English name for the beetles, I tried to explain to the children not to hurt them.
- They are the kings of all insects. They’re under protection – I explained.
- I’ve never seen a king that’s this disgusting – replied a four year old girl.
- But this is a princess, look how shiny her shell is.
- She seems tired and covered in mud.
- That’s because for the whole night, she was under persuit of an evil lord, who wanted to inprison her in a hollow tree.
Ursula Phillips (translator, literary specialist UCL SSEES): The overcoming (or coming to terms with) melancholy, both the melancholy provoked by the original place and the melancholy of emigration, through art - i.e. through the writing of poetry or prose. Can creating art be the positive empowerment? Furthermore, the distance of exile can create the psychological/ emotional conditions needed for this (I am thinking here also about what Joanna Bator says, for example, about Japan: she had to spend several years in Japan in order to 'return' to Walbrzych, from which she ran away aged 18 - then she could write about it, and this overcame her melancholy).
Wiola: In my opinion, art and writing don’t help in overcoming states of melancholy. The tendency for melancholy is almost written within the person. I have a melancholic voice, inherited from the females of my family. Once, during a trip to the river Thames, a friend of mine told me to add a cheerful note to my voice – as my daughter can hear me. But genes can’t be changed. For me, travel, movement and emigration help to overcome melancholic states. The movement makes me forget. I also think that’s the reason why the main character of my novel is continuously moving. She keeps going somewhere, there’s plenty of her everywhere. We can feel the movement in the way she describes herself, which mirrors me.
FEBRUARY 2, 2017: Escaping from this small place.... (Wioletta Greg with her Swallowing Mercury, 2017 and discussion on women's writing, Poland, Brexit and translation)
WIOLETTA GREG [Grzegorzewska] is a poet, writer, editor and translator. Born in southern Poland, she moved to the UK in 2006. She currently resides in the town of Ryde on the Isle of Wight. Wioletta has published several volumes of poetry in Poland, Canada and the UK, including Wyobraźnia kontrolowana (Controlled Imagination, 1998), Parantele (Kinships, 2003), Orinoko (2008), Inne obroty (Alternate Turns, 2010), the bilingual Pamięć Smieny/Smena’s Memory (2011), Finite Formulae & Theories of Chance (2014), the collection of short prose forms: Notatnik z wyspy (Notes from an Island, 2011) and a debut novel, Guguły (2014. Swallowing Mercury, 2017), in which she revisits the experience of growing up in post-Communist Poland. Her poems have appeared in numerous literary Polish and British journals and she has won several literary prizes, including the Tyska Zima Poetycka.