Snow Q: Parley-vous Ponglish? by Maria Jastrzębska

In the original Snow Queen story by Hans Christian Andersen, Gerda is on a quest to find her beloved Kai lost in ice and snow. She is helped by various people and creatures. Of all of them poet MariaJastrzębska was drawn most to the Crow. Here she tells us about the third character in her Snow Q poems:

“…it is so difficult to speak your language” says Crow as it struggles to communicate with Gerda. Crow’s first language – naturally – is Crow. Sadly, although Gerda’s grandmother understands Crow, Gerda has never learnt to speak it. How many migrant families struggle with communication across generations as well as with their host countries? How many languages become erased?According to the editor of Poems from the Edge, An Anthology of Poetry in Endangered Languages, Chris McCabe, one language is falling silent every 2 weeks. With the loss of those languages are lost unique traditions, oral and written, poetic, cultural. The work of translators is more precious than ever today as the U.K is steered – dragged – towards deeper and deeper insularity and disconnection from the rest of the world, from cultural diversity and richness, while the same troubling nationalism is on the increase in many other parts of the world.

I grew up between two cultures, two languages. We children would mix those languages as I hear young Polish people doing today. My parents discouraged this, hoping to preserve our mother-tongue. Largely thanks to them I’ve maintained a good level of Polish, but of course there was something deliciously transgressive about mixing the languages – Ponglish has that charm for me. As I began to write Crow’s words I realised what a multilingual creature this Crow could be, with its mix of Polish and English learned as as additional languages to its mother tongue. We both – the Crow and myself – enjoyed playing with language, relishing each sound, each word. Celebration as resistance.

Readers of English poetry will be familiar with Ted Hughes’ very masculine – and more naturalistic – Crow. What of the pronouns for my Crow? In Polish Crow is Wrona, a feminine creature, while animals in English are generally ‘it’, although English speakers often use the traditionally masculine ”default” and say ‘he’ automatically of any animal. People have been getting quite muddled about the genders of my characters, calling Kai ‘he’ – as in the original Andersen story and not knowing what to call Crow, but mostly saying ‘he’ whereas this Crow is decidedly not a ‘he’… 

My Snow Q Crow is a trickster, a Greek chorus/Shakespearian Fool, deadly serious and utterly silly at the same time, a multilingual Crone, a Time Lord (sic) as in Dr Who. Being timeless and very old ( as well as being a bird) it has a wider, different perspective from the two earth-bound young people Gerda and Kai. 

“If you had widzieliście what I have seen, the dead on every street,

police with pistolety on horseback,

soldiers, tanks…

the snowy dark.”

Do Crow and Gerda struggle to communicate as well because Crow is old and Gerda is young? I’m passionate about intergenerational dialogue. In the first phase of this project we worked with the Young Carers group in Brighton and Older & Out LGBT group. This year we’re delighted to have young people from the Blueprint 22 project coming to our performance in Brighton. Previously I’ve been involved with Are You Happy Are You Free? a film made by Queer in Brighton where we interviewed younger and older queer people about their lives. We don’t always see exactly eye to eye with the generation below or above us age-wise, but it’s essential we go on reaching out and trying to understand one another. We need each other.

By Maria Jastrzębska

This blog was originally published on Snow Q Project‘s website on 30 January 2020.

Images by Dagmara Rudkin

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