A Salt Wind: Cross-Currents in Polish and British Poetry

Exploring cultural interstices with Alice Oswald, Jacek Dehnel, Ruth Padel, Vahni Capildeo and others



19 September, 7.30pm
Ognisko Polskie - the Polish Hearth
55 Princes Gate
South Kensington
London SW7 2PN

Tickets: £10/£6 including wine
Book online

Eight poets living in Poland and the UK, Tara Bergin, Vahni Capildeo, Jacek Dehnel, Krystyna Dąbrowska, David Harsent, Alice Oswald, Ruth Padel, and George Szirtes were commissioned to reflect on the cross-currents between the two poetic cultures for Modern Poetry in Translation. The resulting poems and prose pieces will be presented online on a fascinating new blog, with images and illustrations by Elle French & Jessie Russell Donn, graduates of the Royal College of Art.

Last year after the referendum, there was a spike in attacks on people perceived to be ‘foreign’. Whilst the victims of the attacks came from many ethnicities and nationalities, Poles were often targeted: Polish-owned properties and shops were vandalised and burnt down and Polish people – UK residents – were abused, verbally and physically. It felt to many of the British like the beginning of a harsh and unwelcome age in which the old demons of xenophobia and nationalism resurfaced in new guises.

The Poles and the British have a long history of living together and helping each other, and this spirit of mutuality is nowhere better expressed than in literature. So a small group of writers and translators decided to build a small but beautiful project, involving eight Polish and British poets who have each written about the importance of the literature of the other culture for their own poetry and poetics. All this work has been gathered into a web resource which can be used for the pleasure of reading new work and to demonstrate once again the cross-fertilisation between cultures. Here you can read Vahni Capildeo’s Nine Variations on the delicate and unnerving work of Krystyna Miłobędzka, Ruth Padel’s long elegy to her mother, infused with Czesław Miłosz’s ‘romantic irony’ and Jacek Dehnel’s commentary on Philip Larkin’s sense of futurity. Alice Oswald has written on a poet of the Warsaw Uprising, Anna Swirszczynska; George Szirtes responded with a set of elegant variations on Leopold Staff. The work is varied and powerful and a testament to the lifeblood of ‘foreign’ literatures and translation for our own limited sense of culture and literature.

We are not powerful: we know that poetry’s reach is limited and we are often preaching to the converted in the world of literature (after all what reader needs to be reminded of sympathy for the other?) But we feel that only an agglomeration of small acts of mutuality will improve our situation now. After all every Salt Wind carries word of the sea.

Join us to launch this marvellous new British-Polish poetry resource, with readings from Jacek Dehnel, Krystyna Dąbrowska, George Szirtes, Ruth Padel and David Harsent and begin a conversation about the mutual influences between our two literary cultures.

Project initiated by Julith Jedamus, organised by Modern Poetry in Translation in partnership with The British Council, The Polish Cultural Institute in London, and Ognisko Polskie – The Polish Hearth, and in media partnership with CultureTrip.

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