avant-gardes, but my main focus was poetry – writing poetry and editing poetry magazines – and so the visual art of these avant-gardes was something I recognised only as an accompaniment to literary practice. I was not really grasping it on its own terms. This did not come until I moved to Poland in October 1984, remaining there until October 1987. I had been hired to teach English literature at the university in Łódź , which was then Poland’s second-largest city and home to the National Film School.The latter was the institutional base for members of the ‘Workshop of Film Form’, a focus for radical experimentation in the visual arts. Many of its members were political activists who had lost their jobs when martial law was imposed during 1981–1983. Official disapproval was met by an upsurge in art-making and in clandestine forms of art-sharing. One-off performances were staged in cellars, pop-up exhibitions were held in the communal attics of housing blocks, films were projected onto the walls of people’s apartments. Times and places were conveyed by word of mouth, often on the day of the event; and events were nocturnal – by morning, all signs of what had taken place would be gone. Within a few weeks of settling in Poland, I fell into the middle of all this.
And what could not fail to strike a new arrival was the urgency with which it was pursued. Art was not a leisure activity but a daily necessity, at a time when daily life was a challenge for the ordinary citizen. There were shortages of almost everything and queueing, often in atrocious weather, took up a significant proportion of anyone’s spare time. I had to queue for paper if I wanted to have anything to write with. The first thing I was given when I arrived was an identity card. The second thing was a ration card: it was rectangular, with component sections for different foodstuffs, such as meat, flour, sugar, milk, dripping, bones. The different sections were