I’ve returned from a weekend in Warsaw. It was a slightly random, impulse-buy holiday, spurred by a combination of realising my opportunities for flight are rapidly diminishing (you’re not supposed to go on planes during the third trimester), plus £8 single-fares in the Ryanair sale. We had a lovely weekend though, walking round in a soft fall of snow. We saw fragments of the Jewish Ghetto’s wall, and merchants’ houses in the old-town, rebuilt from scratch after it was razed by copying old paintings; children on old-fashioned wooden sledges and the enormous, Stalinist Palace of Culture; the houses of Marie Curie and ETA Hoffman (writer of the brilliantly creepy short story The Sandman) and the church that holds Chopin’s heart in an urn. Yesterday we went to Praga, the suburb from which the Russians watched the Warsaw Rising crushed, crossing the sluggish river where icy islands slowly collide, twirl then part like waltzers.
The food was great – hot, smoky little cheeses and steaming pierogi, and in the stand-up bars, plates of salty-sour herring with 4 zloty (90p) vodka shots. Sadly, I had to sip a single shot lovingly for an hour rather than get smashed – especially frustrating as Warsaw is a great place for a booze-crawl (from a bar in an old, communist station to the concrete pavillions behind the Nowy Swiat, where Klapps boasted a wall of illuminated breasts and beer pumps made from dildos…) Still, nice to get a break from London and the building work, and to see a different culture. I love the way the language looks, all those brilliant Zs and Ks. And I was reading Milosz properly for the first time while I was there – his amazing sections on Warsaw in A Treatise on Poetry and the 1945 collection Rescue with ‘Voices of Poor People’ and ‘Songs of Adrian Zielinski’ (‘A carousel drones in the little square. / Somebody is shooting somebody out there.’)
It was snowing when our train pulled back into Liverpool Street Station today, although it’s turning to slush outside the window. Now I’m back, I should mention a few interesting events coming up for Londoners: firstly, I’m taking part in The Idler’s free Idle Sundays season at Selfridges and will talking about romantic poetry and silence on the 27th of January at 1pm.
On the 21st of February I’m very pleased to be taking part in an evening of poetry inspired by one of my favourite photographers, Man Ray, at the National Portrait Gallery, with the wonderful Luke Wright and Ross Sutherland.
And I’ve just been asked to be a guest reader at the launch of Magma 55 at the Troubadour on Monday the 25th of February, along with Penelope Shuttle. It should be a really interesting issue – it’s edited by Karen McCarthy Woolf and Tim Kindberg and the theme is the Soul and the Machine.