Snow Q is a re-imagining of Hans Christian Andersen’s much-loved fable, The Snow Queen, combining poetry, original music and visuals. This live literature performance was inspired by Andersen’s enigmatic tale of friendship, love and loyalty to explore contemporary themes of social isolation, gender, sexuality, migration and exile.
The project was originally created and produced by three Polish-connected artists, poet Maria Jastrzębska, fine artist Dagmara Rudkin and composer Peter Copley. Supported by New Writing South, Snow Q received further funding from Arts Council England in order to create a live literature production directed by Mark C Hewitt, which is touring in February 2020, and three filmpoems by Wendy Pye.
Hi Maria! Can you tell us about your work as a writer, what you’re interested in, and what gets your creative mind working?
I can’t exactly explain it, but I’m so grateful when the creative mind does work. Anything, massive or tiny, can start it off. My twin themes are love and war, but I never know what I’m going to create till I do it. I’ve published four full collections and several chapbooks. The world is endlessly interesting to me despite us currently doing such a good job of messing it up. Even though we’re weak and often misguided our human stories always amaze and inspire me.
Tell us about your show, Snow Q. What should the audience expect? Where did it come from, how has it been developed?
Snow Q started out as a collaboration of different artists working on a re-imagining of Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen story along contemporary themes. Together we created a multimedia installation. In this next phase of the project we’ve developed Snow Q as a live literature production which will tour in February. We’re incorporating my poetry, which will be performed by actors, the original music and some video and sound.
I recommend leaving all preconceptions at the door, but if you come to see the production in Brighton we’ll be in the wonderfully atmospheric – cold! – Spire building, so wear woollies!
As well as a poet you’re a translator – and now you’re working in the world of theatre and performance, too. What calls you to different creative outlets and practises?
I get really really excited collaborating with other writers and artists, working across forms and languages. I love it when literature breaks out of its box! That’s been at the heart of Snow Q and it’s given me a chance to showcase my work outside of the usual poetry places as well as to meet community groups – both youth and older people – I wouldn’t have otherwise got to know.
I feel so lucky I got to work with incredible Polish fine artist Dagmara Rudkin, prominent composer Peter Copely, also with strong Polish connections, extraordinary filmmaker Wendy Pye and outstanding writer and performance director Mark C Hewitt, who sees things in my work I didn’t even realise were there. We’ve worked with an imaginative sound engineer, Simon Yapp, at Subtown Studios and last but not least we’re now working with two extremely talented young Polish actors, Rita Suszek and Maria Ziółkowska who bring their own interpretations to my words.
Have there been any surprises in putting the show together?
The whole process has been one big surprise! How a string of poems can be transformed to make a live whole and be so different from poems on the page!
And what language is it in? You see, when I started out with Snow Q I had no idea how much of it I’d be writing in Ponglish – that hybrid language Polish migrants and migrant children here sometimes speak. In Andersen’s story I was drawn to the Crow who helps Gerda in her quest to find Kai but who struggles with human-speak. Naturally! Being a Crow, it is more comfortable in its first language – a migrant character if ever there was one! In my version Crow is a showy trickster, a multi-lingual crone… Think drag, think Dr Who! I also wasn’t sure who Gerda and Kai would be except I knew they wouldn’t be a traditional girl and boy. Since the setting for Snow Q is half fairy tale and half contemporary and since in my mind they were unconventional young people it then became obvious they would identify as non binary or queer. People get confused by this and keep wanting to call Kai ‘he’ but as Crow says “there was a boy who was not a boy/oj boi się boi…”
Where do the Snow Q filmpoems fit in?
Alongside preparing for this tour we commissioned Wendy Pye to make three short filmpoems in response to my poems and Peter Copley’s music. The first of these Lullaby is already done and it features Dagmara Rudkin’s work as well as Wendy’s exquisite imagery. It is both beautiful and troubling. Two more will follow: Have you seen Kai? which includes an extract from the Gerda and Kai duet poems and From the Subsongs of Crow containing a section of the poem which I’m delighted to say was Highly Commended in the Forward Poetry Prize 2019. All these filmpoems will be accessible to the public free of charge on our website.
What are you most excited about in the upcoming tour?
I can’t wait to see all our intense, hard work coming together. There’s a real magic in live performance. Something special happens. I’m used to giving readings myself of course but this is different. It’s fantastic to hand over to the performers and to Mark as director and let the words take off – almost with a life of their own.
13 February 2020 - 23 February 2020