Between Two Countries
Ian McMillan explores what happens when writers have to shift their thoughts and feelings into a second language.
Ian McMillan explores what happens when writers have to shift their thoughts and feelings into a second language. Novelist Patrick McGuinness argues that he can 'feel more than he can say in French, and say more than he can feel in English', Nick Makoha brings us a new poetry commission inspired by leaving Uganda (and three languages behind) when he was only four. We also hear about the 'Polish Sappho' - the groundbreaking poet Maria Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewska who moved to Blackpool during the Second World War, and Heather Dohollau (who was born in Wales , but became an acclaimed poet in French). And our returning guest, the poet Kate Fox skewers that the familiar trope of the book blurb - the writer who 'divides their time' by choice - between two equally glamorous locations.
Poet, novelist and academic Patrick McGuinness explores his experience of moving from Belgium to England as a child, and the way that shifting languages affected his sense of self. He still feels that ‘In English I can say more than I feel, in French I can feel more than I can say’. Patrick also talks about Heather Dohollau who was born in Wales, but only became a poet when she moved to Brittany as an adult and started writing in French; she called it her ‘daughter tongue’. Heather died in 2013, but not before she had been made ‘Officier de la Légion d’Honneur’ by her adopted country. Patrick’s latest novel, ‘Throw Me To The Wolves’, is inspired by his time attending an English boarding school, will be published by Vintage in April.
Poet Nick Makoha was born in Uganda; when he left (at the age of 4), he lost not one but three of his languages. For Nick, poetry is a paradox – a place of exile where he can still belong. He explains how the pictorial quality of Swahili is alive in his poems, even if the vocabulary is no longer with him. Nick reads a brand new poem ‘EBB’, inspired by his interest in airports as liminal places, where even those leading a nomadic lifestyle can feel at home. Nick’s collection ‘Kingdom of Gravity’ is published by Peepal Tree.
Basia Howard celebrates the work of Maria Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewaka – known as the ‘Polish Sappho’. Maria is regarded as a significant, and ground-breaking poet in Poland, for her radical use of everyday language, but the work of her final years (spent in England) is not that well known. Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewaka moved to Blackpool during the Second World War, and according to one of her contemporaries, her poetry acquired ‘an infernal Shakepearean gravity’. Basia reads translations of Maria’s poems that she has made into English, and considers the impact that exile had on her work.
Verb regular Kate Fox considers the way in which her accent allows her to do two things at once – she can discuss lofty ideas whilst still appearing down to earth. In a new commission, Kate considers and skewers the book blurb trope of a writer who ‘divides their time’ between two places. Kate is currently touring her new show ‘Where There’s Muck, There’s Bras’.