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27 September 2012updated 07 Sep 2021 11:03am

Poems for Pussy Riot

Ahead of the band’s appeal hearing next week, English PEN will publish a series of protest poems to garner support for their release.

By Philip Maughan

On Monday three members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot will attend Moscow’s City Court to appeal against the two-year prison sentence handed to them last month. Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yaketerina Samutsevich were each convicted of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”, and there are fears that they may, if unsuccessful in their appeal, end up being sent to a remote Siberian penal colony.

Many have responded to this obscene suppression of free speech and religious hypocrisy, particularly poets, musicians and artists, whom the band have indirectly thanked. English PEN, the London-based wing of PEN International, have been publishing poems in reaction to the situation online every day since the women were convicted. In order to rally support in the run up to the appeal, the organisation has selected the best contributions cropped from across the globe, to be published as an ebook on October 1. There will also be a peaceful poetry protest outside the Russian embassy in London from 11am-1pm the same day.

Entries have been sent in from as wide a field as South Africa and Korea. There was even a rap performed in the Anglican church in Totnes in Devon, with the Vicar’s blessing. The ebook, entitled Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot, will also feature work by Phill Jupitus, Ali Smith, Deborah Levy and John Kinsella. It has been edited by Mark Burnhope, Sarah Crewe and Sophie Mayer, whose poem “sheela na gig” ends after a synaesthetic recreation of the original protest, with a defiant declaration:

there is music  there are muses  there is movement  there is riot”.

The poems are also being translated into Russian, with the intention that they will reach both members of the band and their families.

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