Poets in Lockdown 1: Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese

Hi everyone, I’m Sue Burge and I’m one of Live Canon’s poets (In the Kingdom of Shadows, 2018).  I’ve been having lots of conversations with fellow poets about how the pandemic has affected them and, as we start easing out of lockdown, it felt like a good time to explore this a little further, so when Helen’s e-mail asking for blogpost ideas dropped into my inbox this seemed the opportune moment. I contacted five poets and devised a set of questions from which each poet chose five to answer.  My own coping strategy in lockdown has not been very thought out, to be honest.  I’m lucky to live near the sea and to feel quite safe in my environment and have access to lots of beautiful walks and quiet lanes for cycle rides.  I have few distractions and have written a great deal in the last three months.  My greatest achievement has probably been cutting my own fringe, although I have also tried out some new recipes incorporating nettles and ground elder, worked my way through Wagner’s Ring Cycle and listened to an extensive history of reggae music!


Our first poet in lockdown is Elzbieta Wojcik-Leese.  We first met at a NAWE conference (National Association of Writers in Education) and then I did a couple of Ela’s brilliant Transreading courses at the Poetry School and we stayed in touch.  My strangest memory of Ela is of meeting her in The Poetry Library on the South Bank quite by chance.  Not so strange, you might think – but she lives in Copenhagen!


So, Ela – how has it been for you?


Have you been able to write? And if so, has your writing focus changed? Did you surprise yourself?


If being alive to the world (though I’m aware ‘alive’ has very immediate connotations at present), observing, reading, taking notes is writing – and to me, it is – then I have been able to write. But I’ve put away one complex project I started three months ago, as it requires a different type of concentration. Instead, I’m writing… sentences. One-sentence texts seem fairly manageable; there are days when I write more than one. When the lockdown started, I was re-reading Rebecca Solnit and Lydia Davis – I’m sure my ‘new practice’ is shaped by their command of individual sentences, which, in Davis’s case, may become autonomous texts.


Have you discovered any new poets? Any good lockdown reading recommendations?


Before sheltering-in-place became our reality, I had ordered Ann Matthews’s Home Turf (Knives Forks and Spoons, 2020), since it intrigued me with its use of the floor plan (the visual layout associated with property sales presentation) to organize poems. Now I can’t stop thinking that our confinement creates another interpretative context for this collection, which presents the places Matthews has lived in or attended. Each poem spells in bold the name of the place, often accompanied by a comment; the numbers of lines correspond to the address numbers. By a lucky coincidence (I believe in serendipitous reading or, more precisely, in making creative connections), Matthews employs the American Language Poets’ concept of the New Sentence. That’s why I’ve returned to Ron Silliman and I’m re-reading Lyn Hejinian’s My Lifesentence by sentence.


Will you make any significant changes to your life post-lockdown?


My answer modifies your question: I hope that virtual readings and book launches will continue when our social distancing stops. They have allowed so many of us to participate in literary events which otherwise would have been inaccessible (not due to the pandemic, but because of geographic distances or expensive travel arrangements).


Have you discovered any good lockdown poetry events on-line you would recommend?


Some of these virtual events, such as Anthony Anaxagorou and Raymond Antrobus’s ‘Poems for a Lockdown’, may live beyond their immediate circumstances – the two poets/hosts are thinking of turning their ‘formula’ into a podcast series. I’ve enjoyed their Instagram Live readings of 8 poems every Thursday because of their wide-ranging choices: it’s so refreshing to come across new poets.


Greatest lockdown achievement/new skill?


Cloud watching. I tend to stare out of the window at any time, but now my limited movement foregrounds cloud movement. (Luckily, we finished our flat renovation just before the lockdown, so from our bed in its new position I can see an expanse of the sky above an old church spire.) I’m learning to recognize and name cloud formations. Predictably, I appreciate their dynamics most on my walks.


Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese writes with/in English, Polish and Danish. Her poems have appeared in Wretched Strangers: Borders, Movement, Homes, Other Countries: Contemporary Poets Rewiring History, Metropoetica. Poetry and Urban Space: Women writing cities and such journals as Long Poem Magazine, Shearsman, The Island Review, Cordite Poetry Review or Tears in the Fence. Nothing More by Krystyna Miłobędzka was shortlisted for the 2015 Popescu European Poetry Translation Prize. She co-curates ‘Transreading’ courses for the Poetry School, London.