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Poems for Pussy Riot

Posted by & filed under Campaigns.

English PEN’s Writers at Risk Programme are delighted to be supporting ‘Poems for Pussy Riot’, an exciting new project, initiated by writer and editor Sophie Mayer. In this guest blog, Sophie explains the genesis of the project, and why everyone can and should get involved. 

From every corner of the UK and Ireland. From Canada. From the USA. From South Africa. From Australia. From the PEN International World Congress in Gyeongju, Korea. From S.J. Fowler’s London Poets for Pussy Riot and Richard Barrett’s Manchester Poets for Pussy Riot and Liv Moss/Shatterjapan music event FREE PUSSY RIOT in Hoxton. From Twitter and Facebook and Skype and email and chance meetings, poems for Pussy Riot are arriving in my inbox. It’s a waystage on a dual journey: to the Russian prison where artists Maria Alyokhina, 24, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, are being held — via the inboxes of several generous English-to-Russian translators — and into cyberspace, as an ebook (as well as audio and video recordings) that will hopefully travel around the world.

What started as a conversation among four friends on Facebook, sparked by a post from EngPussyRiot that provided instructions on how to send letters to the band, has become a transnational conversation of hundreds powered by social media but driven by the same community and generosity among writers that informed the foundation of PEN. Both the example set by Pussy Riot — fierce, feminist champions of freedom — and the example being made of them by the Russian judiciary has fired something in writers around the world. The band’s punk prayer, a poem gorgeously translated into English by Carol Rumens and Sasha Dugdale, uses language precisely and powerfully — and it’s inspired the poets who’ve contributed to do the same.

We are used to feeling that, bar some high-profile cases, we have freedom of expression in the UK (as in the US, Canada, Ireland, Australia, and — albeit challenged by the current government — South Africa). We speak without fear of prison. But these poems — many featuring, and celebrating, pussy, vagina or other post-watershed words — reveal the censorship we have internalised, from church and state. Many of the contributors are activists in their writing and outside it; but for some, this is their first time putting their words on the line, thinking about what it means to push back against censorship, with its physical and psychic threats. In doing so, we push, pull, and play with language and poetic form: this portfolio isn’t worthy or hand-wringing, it’s vivid and outrageous.

That is a tribute to the band, who have said they hope their work inspires others to make art and music that continues their message — and that they are inspired to hear the outpouring of bold music, poetry and art that has sprung from their example. So it becomes a cycle of mutual courage, inspiration and engagement, growing from the clicktivism of sharing a Facebook post into making something collectively and sending it out. Dmitri Medvedev might say he’s “sickened… by the hysteria” around the band, that old bugbear of men’s fear of women’s emotion and anger, but it’s scaring him into calling for the band’s freedom. That reminds us, as Pussy Riot do, that if everyone stood up and spoke out, the censors would lose. Or, as singer Ani Difranco puts it in “Face Up and Sing,” (and I think it’s right to end with a great independent singer-songwriter):

                Some chick says, “Thank you for saying all the things I never do”

                I say, “You know, the thanks I get is to take all the shit for you

                It’s nice that you listen, it’d be nicer if you joined in

                As long as you play their game, girl, you’re never going to win.”

                …

                I need back-up, I need company, I need to be inspired!     

We need back-up, we need company… If you’d like to get involved email cat@englishpen.org for information on how to submit a poem — and/or how to get involved in translating the poems into Russian.

And if you need to be inspired: here’s the first poem for Pussy Riot, Ira Lightman’s “Soutien-Gorge”

 

SOUTIEN-GORGE

                              ‎”other early versions of the brassiere

                               resembled a camisole stiffened with boning”

                                                        WIKIPEDIA

 

o flesh                                  rungs H

be choice                           plunge in

the clothes                       support I’d

days disclose               helipads’ hide

dance cherishes         concretes tried

days disclose               helipads’ hide

the clothes                       support I’d

be choice                           plunge in

o flesh                                  rungs H

 

 

Other Poems for Pussy Riot posts

Vagina: Sophie Mayer

Song: Ali Smith

Abridged and Complete Biography of Olympe de Gouge: Claire Trévien

Women of the Year: Betty Doyle

Weapons of Minor Destruction: Sandra Alland

Our Glorious Leader Putin: Jack Underwood

Cat Power: Amy Key

Avoid using the word “pussy”: Charlotte Geater

Poem with Four Vaginal Walls: Mark Burnhope

Sheela na gig (deconstructed): Sarah Crewe

Dance of the Seven Veils: Alison Croggon

Skylined: Gareth Evans

Vox Populi (A poem for voices): Steve Heighton

The Eye of the Needle: Aoife Mannix

Ne (No): Wayne Burrows

Vaginaland: Jen Campbell

We Jew women: Translated by Marek Kazmierski

Elegy in Red: Chris Emslie

Theatre: Fathieh Saudi

Three Sisters: Tim Dooley

Some Protest Stones: Sarah Hesketh

Please welcome to the stage: Alex MacDonald

Because The Poets Know: Tony Walsh

Pussy Riot Rap: Ana Pultenay

Manifesto #1: Richard Barrett

Pair Bond: Barbara Smith

Fine Line: Red of the Vaginellas

The Blackbird: Adam Horovitz

The Queendom of Revolution: Sally McAlister

Russian Songs: Sascha Aurora Akhtar

Strange: Karen Press

Pussy got the… : Amy Ekins

Pussy Riot: Deborah Levy

Pussy Riot Shorts: Jeff Hilson

TRICKY D.I.S.C.O: Lucy Furlong

Accessories: Katy Price 

In Vogue: Chella Quint 

Penillion for Pussy Riot: John Kinsella

Hooligan Truth: Jay Griffiths

Pussy Frankenstein: Theodoros Chiotis

Pomegranates for Lady Macbeth: Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Girl Banned: Phill Jupitus

A Mother Prays to Cipaltonal: Sirama Bajo

Here, my love, listen: Karen Connelly

Poem: Peter Hughes

Two Poems: Philo Ikonya and Helmuth A. Niederle

Prayer and Pussy Riot Have Three Letters in Common: Veronica Zundel

A Young Girls Dream: Ginna Wilkerson

Trollops’ Cathedral: Sophie Herxheimer and Alison Winch

Perpetual: Sasha Dugdale

 

12 Comments on Poems for Pussy Riot

    1. arthur

      Vaneigem Mix by Royal Family & the Poor is re-released on Sept 17 on  Fac.Dance 02 from Strut Records. We dedicate it to Pussy Riot.   It`s a 2cd/LP/download compilation with cover design by Peter Saville. Vaneigem Mix is also on Youtube.    Our website is http://www.gothicmoonrecords.co.uk      Best Wishes and punk prayers.      

      Reply

    2. elmo dufen

      Early one morning I heard a regime hectoring, protect superstitions to preserve temporal power. So often. 
       

      Reply

    3. Christina

      This is such a good idea, I was horrified by some of the letters people had written to the Metro about Pussy Riot (‘so glad they got what they deserved, about time Christians stood up for themselves’, etc)

      Reply

    4. SM Thompson

      Spiritual Essentials ….
      Take with you a pen plus notebook
      Do not shake
      Forget all shookup
      Grab your memories fast
      Ask for the Press Pass
      Will be in touch at last
      When the sun rises
      Over the mountains
      Spiritual essentials – carry them with you
      Wherever you go
      Tread carefully – on the ground below

      Reply

    5. « Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot »: a radiant poetry Ebook in which 110 poets scream their hearts out for a new punk-literary faith | The Nerdy Virginias

      [...] “That is a tribute to the band, who have said they hope their work inspires others to make art and music that continues their message — and that they are inspired to hear the outpouring of bold music, poetry and art that has sprung from their example. So it becomes a cycle of mutual courage, inspiration and engagement, growing from the clicktivism of sharing a Facebook post into making something collectively and sending it out. Dmitri Medvedev might say he’s “sickened… by the hysteria” around the band, that old bugbear of men’s fear of women’s emotion and anger, but it’s scaring him intocalling for the band’s freedom. That reminds us, as Pussy Riot do, that if everyone stood up and spoke out, the censors would lose.” – Cat Lucas (An introduction to the Poems for Pussy Riot project) [...]

      Reply

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