Anzhelina Polonskaya was accepted by ICORN because she and her family had been receiving threats after Anzhelina had returned to Moscow from a scholarship in Germany in early 2015. Especially her poetic contribution to the Oratorium >Kursk< about the sinking of a aubmarine in 2000 – a subject very much a taboo in Russia today – led to severe attacks on her by Russian nationalists. Upon her arrival in Frankfurt she explains her present situation in an interview with ICORN, below.
Her first book of verse My Heavenly Torch appeared in 1993; this was followed in 1998 by a second volume, entitled Verses, and in 1999 by The Sky in a Private’s Eye. In 2002, another book of poetry, A Voice, was published in Moscow, and in 2004. The English translation of this work was shortlisted for the 2005 Corneliu Popescu Prize for European Poetry in Translation.
In 2011, the “Oratorio-Requiem” Kursk, whose libretto consists of ten of Polonskaya’s poems, was debuted at the Melbourne Arts Festival. In 2013, Paul Klee’s Boat, a bilingual edition of Polonskaya’s recent poems, was published and shortlisted for the 2014 Best Translated Book Award and for the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation.
Polonskaya has had translations of her work published in many of the world’s leading poetry journals, such as World Literature Today and Poetry Review. Her work has also been translated into Dutch, Slovenian, Latvian, Spanish and other languages.
Polonskaya became a member of the Moscow Union of Writers in 1998; in 2003, she joined the Russian PEN Centre.
Restrictive publishing laws, censorship and harassment
The Russian government has for some time been fostering ‘patriotic’ values, deliberately exploiting domestic xenophobic sentiment; this has led to a growth in nationalist groups, which have often made threats and attacked those seen to be critical of Putin or Russia, or those who are regarded as ‘un-Russian’ because of the content of their work. Recent legislative changes (the profanity law of 2014 and the antigay ‘propaganda’ law of 2013) also demonstrate a new impetus in Russia to exercise ever greater control over what is written and published.
Following her recent return to Russia in May this year after a writer in residence fellowship in Gernmany, Polonskaya has been receiving several threats. After openly criticizing President Putin in her works, Her name appears on a publishing blacklist in Russia, which makes publishing any of her outspoken work in Russia near impossible.
INTERVIEW WITH Anzhelina Polonskaya
What were your expectations before you came to Frankfurt? And what were your apprehensions (or fears) then?
To be honest, I really had no idea to expect heading for Frankfurt. It is kind of new type of residency with a political connotation. I had fellowships like an author before. Now I am a writer in exile. Because the situation in my Motherland does not allow me to live and work at all on my books. I have to say that at present I cannot survive without assistance from the West. I am very grateful for different organizations for that sort of help that I have found in the past. Now it is a combination of organizations giving me refuge: ICORN, Litprom and the City of Frankfurt with the support of the Frankfurt Book Fair.
I did not have any specific apprehensions except one: the aggressive and unpredictable behaviour of the Russian government against the world. Then in particular, I had not only fear for myself but mainly for my mother (who is 74) and who is still staying in Russia alone and who had received many threats because of me.
How would you describe your first impressions of Frankfurt?
I have lived in Germany for 8 months before as a fellow of Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart. Frankfurt was a new town for me. Maybe much more modern, because I know it has been destroyed during the Second War. It’s a lovely city where I have now new friends (a special thanks for Peter Ripken who helps me a lot) and I am very excited that I am in the City of the International Book Fair and that I have an invitation to be a part of this great event!
What hopes do you have with regard to contacts in the social field, and in the field of your profession as a poet and a writer?
I hope to have many appointments and communicate with people and be involved in different cultural events. I am very interested to have some interviews where I am able to share my point of view about the situation in modern Russia. I love poetry readings very much, it’s a part of my work and will be happy to accept any invitation as a poet and writer.
Do you have any specific projects that you want to achieve while in Frankfurt?
Poetry has always been a long life project – he/she is writing a long life book. The time has passed and your point of view or your own style can be changed but never your imagination. When you finished one chapter of life, you start another one immediately, even if the muse left you for a while, you are able to think. I also would like to write more short stories for my book Greenland. It will be published in next spring but I feel inside me it’s not over. A book of prose takes much time for me.
How intensive are your contacts with family and friends in Moscow, and of what kind are they?
Well, during the last 4 years, I lost almost all my family and now I have only my mother. I try to call her every day on Skype, because the anonymous threats which we got by phone (after some of my publications). I am worried about here very much. Besides, she is 74 years old and she lives in the dangerous country. However, I also have friends from school days and we try to communicate very often.
You have had scholarships or fellowships in several countries before. How did you know about ICORN and what made you apply?
I was in Stuttgart and my time was over. Just by chance I wrote to the German PEN- Centre with a request to have a possibility to find a place for me, because I understood well, when I would come back I will be trapped in Moscow and be in trouble. I did not believe that I would be lucky, but the miracle came and a person from PEN forwarded my request to ICORN. So soon, they proposed me the City of Frankfurt. It was a real miracle!