Poems for Pussy Riot: Red Letter Day



Words: Sophie Mayer

Catechism: Poems For Pussy Riot is a communion of the visual and lyrical; rhymed, satirical and experimental poetry in tribute to political prisoners of conscience, Maria Alyokhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova. It contains a cornucopia of approaches to freedom and to feminism, from opposing patriarchy to reclaiming pussy from a book of dirty words. It is an offertory for three women whose actions have woken up the need for change, in not just their own authoritarian state, but also in how we address gender politics and all forms of oppression in our own society. Featured poets include Alison Croggon, Amy Evans, Jeff Hilson, Tom Jenks, Amy Key, Agnes Marton, Michelle McGrane, Sophie Robinson, Andrew Taylor and 100 more.

Summing up the work of 110 poets in 110 words is never easy – especially when the poets in question have donated their work rapidly and generously, towards Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot. The anthology, which includes nearly 100 poems written especially for the band, has come together in under three weeks.

Our publication deadline is Monday 1st October, 2012. That’s the day of Pussy Riot’s appeal against their conviction for ‘hooliganism… on grounds of religious hatred’ for performing as members of feminist punk collective Pussy Riot in an Orthodox cathedral in early 2012. Maria Alyokhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were each sentenced to two years in prison on 17 August 2012, and there are concerns that their appeal on Monday may result in their separation and relocation to penal colonies for the remainder of their sentence.

On Monday, eight of our contributors – Tim Atkins, Tim Dooley, Gareth Evans, Lucy Furlong, SJ Fowler, Sarah Hesketh, Katy Price, and Sophie Robinson – will be taking part in a peaceful poetry protest, co-ordinated by Amy Key. Please come and join us outside the Russian Consulate in Bayswater Road, London, from 11 am-1 pm, with your balaclava at the ready. Armed with only a megaphone and the power of words, the poets will be agitating for the ‘Three Sisters’ in Moscow, as Tim Dooley titles his poem.

Catechism’s editorial team – myself, Mark Burnhope, and Sarah Crewe – have been overwhelmed by the wit, passion, elegance and variety of the poetic protests we’ve received. Some are funny, like Phill Jupitus’ puntastic ‘Girl Banned’ and Jeff Hilson’s ‘Pussy Riot shorts.’ Others bold and angry, like Sophie Robinson’s ‘Free Pussy’ and Tom Jenks’ extraordinary ’50 Shades of Putin,’ which samples internet chat about the Russian president’s sexual appeal. Many poets, including Sirama Bajo, Steve Waling, JT Welsch and Mennonite poet Veronica Zundel, have responded to the band’s Punk Prayer with their own new invocations. Sasha Dugdale wrote from Russia, Sally McAlister from France, Agnes Marton from Hungary, and John Kinsella from Australia. Philo Ikonya,  PEN International member, has been reading her roll call of unriotous dictators at events in Norway.

The English PEN website, where around 45 of the poems will be posted with images of their poets in balaclavas, as well as Twitter and Facebook, have carried the message further than we could ever have imagined: offers of poems poured in, from poets such as seventeen year old activist Betty Doyle, and feminist performance poets Anna Percy, Ana Pulteney, Chella Quint, Barbara Smith, and Sarah Thomasin – often complete with videos, such as Pulteney’s performance of ‘Pussy Riot Rap’ in her church in Totnes, Devon. Twenty-two poets who’d taken part in SJ Fowler’s and Richard Barrett’s Poems for Pussy Riot events in London and Manchester (videos available on YouTube) shared their poems.

We’ll have videos from the protest on Monday, to accompany the ebook by giving the poems riotous form. Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot will be available from the English PEN website in multiple formats and under a Creative Commons License as of Monday 1st October. It even includes cut-out-and-wear poem-balaclava masks created by editor Mark Burnhope, and a stencil by Chella Quint so you can create your own Pussy Riot protest wherever you are. You can download, read, share, tweet, translate, remix, and keep our prayers for Pussy Riot’s freedom alive.


One Comment on Poems for Pussy Riot: Red Letter Day - Leave a comment

Bruce D. Reed

I stand defiant
on a stage too big for me
logic, strategy drowned out
by twittering slogan birds
——-Bruce D. Reed Sept. 29, 2012
(You may use this Tanka Poem.  There should be no capitalization except for the “I” )

Reply to this comment

Post a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *