Adventures in language and identity – Rita

In our project to re-imagine the Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen along contemporary themes we’ve been lucky in attracting some fantastic organisations as partners, but have also found amazing individuals to work with. We’re extremely excited to be working with actor Rita Suszek who will perform live as well as in recordings at our installation on Dec 21st.   Here she tells us a bit about herself and her approach to Snow Q:


When I first saw the casting call for Snow Q, I had to pinch myself, it was so perfect. It included words such as “non-binary”, “poetry”, “fluent in both Polish and English” – terms that describe me as a person, but also pertain to my artistic career. I have lived in the UK for over 6 years now, and have all but given up on being cast in projects as an actor, largely because I don’t present like people’s idea of a Polish girl (slim, short, blonde, long-haired); I have been writing and performing my own work for some time now. To find a casting like that was a miracle; to get the part was a gift.

I have been learning English steadily since age 10, with first exposure to it from about age 5; it is my second language, second home. When I moved to the UK in 2012 I already spoke it fairly fluently and was starting to write in it. Even though my actual degree is in Polish Literature, the everyday usage has taken its toll: when I converse with family, I’ll suddenly realise I translated idiomatic English phrases or the very sentence structure into Polish. The concept of Polglish (or Ponglish, as Maria calls it) is something of an inside joke for me and my loved ones.

In many ways, I feel both Polish and not-Polish at the same time: Polish because I am an immigrant and won’t be shamed for that, political rhetoric be damned; because languages and writing have always been my home; because as a Literature graduate I have roots in the writing of Mickiewicz, Świrszczyńska and many others – Polish poets, novelists and playwrights that shepherded me through my childhood and adolescence. But my not-Polishness – living somewhere else; finding home in another language that at times allows me more breathing room; disagreeing strongly with Poland’s dominant rhetoric, conservative mindset and ruling political paradigm – is equally important to me. Gender identity, something very poignant in Snow Q, is also a concept I have given a lot of thought over the years – partially because growing up in Poland, I have found no way to simply… be. If I was indeed a girl, I was a “girl interrupted”, mostly by ubiquitous misogyny: something that to this day I work through, both privately and through my art.

Given all that, I have been really enjoying the experimentation with phrasing and alliteration in both languages that is the text of Snow Q. It feels like a secret code, tailored to a few, partially accessible to many. Being an immigrant, you are often expected to do all the work necessary to understand and be understood: learn the words and phrases, look up the cultural references, catch up on the backstory. Against this backdrop, Snow Q gives me a feeling of relief. There is a playfulness to dropping Polish words here and there, disrupting the fluency of the experience for the English speakers. Not to mention it connects both halves of my brain, that often, when left undisturbed, thinks in both languages at the same time – a patchwork-y mass of meaning, mess of words.

There is some magic that I feel coursing through the project as a whole; an extraneous meaning that is born out of connecting different art forms and people. If nothing else, there is nuance. We are bringing things that are cast as opposites or binaries (Polish and English; genders; ice cold, loving warmth – isolation and friendship) and creating a living, breathing portrayal that is multifaceted and full of depth. Taking on a story that everyone knows sometimes makes you realise that we don’t know it all that well; the tale of Snow Queen becomes a vehicle through which we can find ourselves again. In our troubled yet beautiful and fractured times, connection is the answer – and art is one way to find it.




Photographs courtesy of Wendy Pye and Juwel Haque


A short Intermission – Maria

All through this year’s glorious U.K summer we’ve been thinking about snow and ice –  literally and metaphorically – for our project to reimagine Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen story. The nights are drawing in now, the wind is cold and we’re getting  closer and closer to our event.  Scroll down for more information & how to book.  (Maria tried to chase the sun but found she couldn’t escape.)

IMG_7646On a short break in beautiful Málaga, not only did the rain catch up with me, but who should I bump into: Mr Andersen who travelled to Málaga in 1862, on one of the ‘first cultural tours of the 19th century’. Here is a sculpture of him by Maria Córdoba in the Spanish town he said he felt ‘most happy and comfortable’ in.

As if that wasn’t enough at CAC (Centro de Arte Contemporáneo de Málaga) I found myself mesmerised by this and other paintings by Hernan Bas – all of men or boys. It’s called Thawing.


Paintings of men/boys generally hold a currency of ‘everyman’-ness while women are interpreted very differently in the art world which in turn determines how non-binary people are seen. Bas’ young men in the exhibition are referred to as androgynous. I’ve yet to see a major exhibition by an out lesbian artist.

Nevertheless I was enchanted by this artist’s work: his exploration of adolescence, the shifts between past and present in his paintings, of which he says that he likes to make images ‘that describe the middle of the story, maybe the intermission, but never the end’.


Back to Snow Q EVENTS: On December 1st at 4pm Lewes Live Literature presents a sneak preview from Snow Q. Maria Jastrzębska will talk about the Snow Q project, with performances by actor Rita Suszek of new text written in the curious hybrid language of Ponglish (half English / half Polish). An intimate try-out of a new work in progress at the secret space that is LLL HQ. Numbers are very limited and entry is free but by invitation only.  If you would like to come please contact:

On December 21st between 4pm and 9pm Snow Q presents its COLLABORATIVE INSTALLATION at the Regency Town House Basement Annexe in Brighton/Hove.  For all the information about our event please go to our Snow Q event page or click HERE – we recommend booking! This will be the culmination of this phase of our work. Which isn’t the same as the end of course…









Parley-vous Kra Kra? Maria

Two of Snow Q’s founding artists, fine artist Dagmara and writer Maria, are Polish-born and bilingual, actor Rita is a more recent arrival from Poland and the composer Peter has strong Polish connections and knows Polish. We’ve drawn inspiration for this collaborative project from The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen (written in Danish, translated into many languages including Polish and English.) At our meetings we often switch between languages. Not surprisingly perhaps Maria has been writing poems for the project in somewhat macaronic language or what she calls Ponglish… Peter asked her to explain a bit more about this:
You know how it is with artistic decisions – you go on your nerve then rationalise later. Originally Gerda was going to speak with words simply missing (her difficulty in finding/expressing herself) but it didn’t work as well out loud so I had to think again. And I wanted to write something that explores the bilingualism of our project anyway.
I’ve been drawn to Gerda and Kai, the two young people in the original story but there is another character who immediately caught my imagination too. I haven’t wanted to post spoilers but some background could be helpful.Crow1
On her quest Gerda is helped by the Crow, whose first language – naturally – is Crow. “it is so difficult to speak your language” the Crow says to Gerda. Sadly, although her grandmother understands Crow, Gerda has never learnt it. How many migrant families struggle with communication across generations as well as with their host countries? How many languages become erased?
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.
I’m obviously not the first poet to write about a Crow… but am hoping mine has its own identity. (More Shakespearian Fool than naturalistic animal.) Incidentally, in Polish Crow takes the feminine pronoun while animals in English are generally ‘it’ (Ted Hughes’ Crow is ‘he’ of course) which adds another dimension to thinking about it/her!
Two crowsMy Crow is old – in Timelord (sic) fashion – and has managed to learn a mix of Polish and English as additional languages. Being a bird gives it a wider perspective on the world it has flown over. Gerda and Kai are more typically second generation so mix in a bit of their mother tongue but speak mostly English. Kai’s Polish has become almost a form of punctuation – the way London kids say ‘innit’ etc – while Gerda uses Polish for emphasis or when searching for a word.
I am also by no means the only writer working with a plurality of languages: among others, poets such as Vahni Capildeo (equally at home in Old Norse and the various languages of her Indian diaspora/Caribbean background) or Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese (using English, Polish and Danish) spring to mind. I write in English but Polish is always there at my shoulder. Mary Jean Chan* calls Chinese a ‘foil or fraternal twin’ to her English. She too has written on the importance of multilingualism for children.
In the poems I’ve been writing for our installation Polish words are preceded or followed by English translation though it’s not always quite so literal. Writing like this has allowed me to be playful, enjoying both languages, (plus a few in Crow) which I hope the audience will pick up on. As the words are mainly spoken – not on the page  – the sound matters as much as meaning.
Myself and actor Rita Suszek will be presenting a sneak preview of this work in Lewes on Dec 1st. Entry is by invitation as numbers are limited –  If you’d like to be invited, email us at
Thank you to Dagmara for all sketches.
*Mary Jean Chan New Poetries VII Carcanet
& Queerness as Translation: from Linear Time to Playtime in Modern Poetry in Translation House of Thirst Focus on LGBTQ+ Poetry, No 2 2018

Older and Out – Maria

If you told someone they were looking especially old, how would it go down? Why is ‘old’ – still – such a dirty word? As part of our research and development for Snow Q, a collaborative project inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen story, we’ve been meeting different groups in the community. It’s important to us to work across a range of ages. So often in our artistic work – unless we are teaching young students – we can end up spending time with people of the same age. Having worked with the Brighton Young Carers Group earlier in the project, Maria recently visited Older and Out a social networking group providing a monthly lunch & meet up for local older LGBTQUI people where she received a warm welcome and tasty fish and chips:

 In the Snow Queen story Gerda is helped on her quest by a range of characters,  including two of my favourite: the old Lapland woman and the old Finnish woman. They live in the far north of the world, nearest to the Snow Queen’s frozen domain.  The Lapland woman guides Gerda on her way and in order to communicate with the Finnish woman – and since she has no paper – she writes her a message on a dry fish.  When the Finnish woman receives the message, after she has read it three times so that she knows it by heart, she pops the fish into her saucepan as she never wastes anything…We had some wonderful discussions with the Older and Out group about stories and characters they remembered being influenced by or looking up to as children. These often included comic book characters rather than literary ones, Rupert Bear, Minnie the Minx, Desperate Dan, Wonder Woman, Dan Dare, also The Famous Five as well as actual war heroes such as fighter pilots Douglas Bader and Guy Gibson. Some of the group were children during World War 2 and could remember the impact of their stories vividly.  Some remembered growing up before TV and the thrill of being allowed to buy a comic. Not surprisingly, a couple of the women mentioned feeling alienated from female role models of the time.Cheeky fish

Although we’d already eaten our fish for lunch (followed by trifle!) Dagmara had kindly prepared some Snow Q paper fish for me which I then asked the group to write messages on. Being passionate about inter-generational dialogue I asked them to write messages for younger people on the fish – in true older Lapland woman style – in particular their messages for young LGBTIQ people. These messages will be worked into our installation with Dagmara’s help.Fish1

In the work I’ve done with both older and younger LGBTIQ people before as part of the ongoing heritage project Queer in Brighton I’ve been struck by how vital this communication across different generations is. We often don’t know our own history as it’s been erased or covered up in mainstream narratives. Our relationship to family is not always straight(sic)-forward so that feeling connected to those younger and older than ourselves is especially important. We need our elders. As someone who never had much in the way of role models and who is now older myself, I felt especially privileged and touched to be working not only with people of my age but also those older than me who struggled for years in the face of prejudice and persecution.