IZfK Band 6, 2022

Poetics and Politics by Women in the Post-Soviet Space

Herausgegeben von Anna Fees, Henrieke Stahl und Claus Telge (Trier)

In contemporary Russian poetry, a special movement has emerged that engages in political activism under the feminist banner. This form of political poetry aims less at criticism and subversion than at making a direct social impact. Poems are written as performative forms of social action and often with a concrete purpose. They aim to resist power and take the side of the oppressed. The poetic subject opens her voice and her body in solidarity with others or courageously opposes the establishment through provocation—even aggression.



Dmitrij Kuz’min (Ozolnieki, Latvia): Russian Poetry of 2010s: In Search of Solidarity

Since the mid-2010s, the problem of overcoming individualism and social atomization through group solidarity has been a central motif of Russian political poetry. New responses to this issue primarily employ feminist optics and an intersectional approach: at the crossroads of gender, nation, and society, authors as diverse as Galina Rymbu, Oksana Vasyakina, Elena Fanaylova, and Maria Galina all explore possibilities for linking the poetic subject to the construction of a group consciousness or collective. I propose that a hallmark of this tendency is the increased frequency and ingratiating use of first-person plural pronouns. This “we index” (the ratio of the number of these pronouns to the number of lines in a text) seems to demonstrate a direct correlation to the author’s degree of thematic interest in the problem; meanwhile, the example of Ilya Rissenberg also shows how the solidarity motif functions in political poetry with a low “we index.”
Russian feminist poetry has flourished in the post-Soviet period, especially the last decade. It has provided inspiring modes of resistance to all forms of indifference to bodily harms, particularly the harms to women. That poetry is studied here through the lens of feminist theory. The essay argues that a wide range of such theories finds resonance in these poems, and it introduces several key poets: Galina Rymbu, Oksana Vasiakina, Lida Yusupova, Elena Fanailova, and Mariia Stepanova, with a coda on Konstantin Shavlovskii..
The Body Placed in Political Contexts by German- and Russian-speaking Female Poets since 1980

In contemporary poetry, transgressive writing – understood as a specific type of social action and discourse that generates new meanings – includes diverse and complex poetic practices and relations between the body and politics, the private and the political. This article focuses on a small selection of texts by German- and Russian-speaking female poets that demonstrate different ways of poetically re-thinking the body, its borders, and its connection to the political. Included are poems by Barbara Köhler, Gabriele Kachold-Stötzer, Ann Cotten, Lidia Yusupova, Oksana Vasyakina, Galina Rymbu, and Nika Skandiaka.
Aleksandr Žitenev (Voronezh): Mediality, Performativity, and Text Structure in Oksana Vasyakina’s Poetic Practice

This article explores forms of performativity in the poetry of Oksana Vasyakina. Vasyakina considers poetry as part of poetic activism related to the assertion of women’s rights in a patriarchal society. Poetic expression – direct and provocative – responds with aggression to aggression, appropriating a position of power. Violence can only be defeated by finding one’s own voice, for which there is no place in a totally masculine culture. Therefore, Vasyakina’s most important idea is the idea of acquiring authentic speech as a long process that involves both overcoming social stereotypes and overcoming oneself, grounding her poetry in a performativity that is simultaneously pragmatic, thematic, and poetological.
Poetic subject, media person and political habitus. Poetics and politics of provocation in A.A. Vitukhnovskaia’s life and work

This article investigates the poetry and public life of Alina A. Vitukhnovskaia against the backdrop of her position as a political dissident in Russia. In opposition to most contemporary Russian poets, she considers her writing to be actively “political,” that is directly interfering with governmental politics. The first part of the article introduces methodological concepts in order to consider the relation between Vitukhnovskaia’s poetry and her political activity: distinguishing between the poetic subject, the media-persona (the presentation of the author and the person Alina Vitukhnovskaia to the public), and the political habitus. The subsequent sections investigate her poetic work, her public appearance, and her political activities in relation to these concepts. Vitukhnovskaia’s poetic subject appears to be characterized by provocation with regard to both aesthetic forms and social themes. Formal provocation is carried out by means of disturbing paronomasia, whereas social and thematic provocation involves the negation of traditional, often nationalist, attitudes and the presentation of negative ideological or philosophical terms (nothingness, emptiness, ugliness, evil). While the former has a philosophical appeal (existentialism), the latter is related to the tradition of the demoniacal, such as goth subculture and necro-aesthetics. Vitukhnovskaia turns surrealism upside-down: making artistic ‘reality’ seem less surreal than the reality of the world. The construction of the poetic subject with provocative elements helps Vitukhnovskaia establish a media-persona. This is considered with regard to self-portraits in the book “The Black Icon of Russian Literature” (2017). The combination of aesthetics (beauty), sexuality (domina), and power is interpreted as a provocative dimension of this media-persona. The last part analyzes the political program of Vitukhnovskaia’s application for the 2018 presidential elections as a collection of demands that contain provocative challenges: for instance, the armament of Russian citizens and nuclear disarmament of the state. This incongruity of political demands is a provocation that correlates with an aspiration to unlimited power. Provocation is also considered the main feature of Vitukhnovskaja’s political practice, which she subordinates to the presentation of her media-persona.
Feminist Writing and Political Protest in the Post-Soviet Space

This article examines the interrelation of contemporary Russian feminist poetry and political activism. Recent protest movements in the post-Soviet space demonstrate that female activists play major roles in all aspects of social transformation. While this had not yet become as clear in the case of Russia, a growing movement of young feminist and queer writers are giving voice to the suppressed through poetry. This article investigates this movement by tracing the development of the feminist network assembled around the internet platform “F-pisʼmo,” which has existed since 2017. Through political activism, festivals, creative writing courses, and the online-publication of poetry, prose, and philosophical essays on gender issues, the organizers and participants in the network engage the subaltern in empowering practices in order to undermine and transform the conservative and patriarchal social order of post-Soviet Russia. Analysis of one of the most powerful and controversial poems of this sort, “Moja vagina” [My vagina] by Galina Rymbu, demonstrates the political impact of feminist poetry in Russia and its link to US-American feminist discourse. It is argued that the method of political activism practiced by Russian feminist poets today can be described as speaking and acting through poetry in the sense of Hannah Arendtʼs political theory of the vita activa.
On 27 June 2020, the prominent feminist poet Galina Rymbu published the poem ‘Moia vagina’ (‘My Vagina’) on her Facebook feed. ‘Moia vagina’ is a solidarity poem, written in support of artist and LGBTQ activist Iuliia Tsvetkova, who is facing a charge of distributing pornography for her abstract paintings of vaginas in a group on the social media platform VKontakte. Rymbu’s poem created huge resonance: it was shared, translated and republished on various platforms on the web and in print, examined by researchers, and debated as both a work of literature and a political statement. The present article charts the story of this remarkable poem, from its origins to its formal properties, its place within contemporary feminist poetry and its close links to feminist activism, and the reactions it triggered. It also analyses the follow-up poem Rymbu wrote in reply to her detractors, ‘Velikaia russkaia literatura’ (‘Great Russian Literature’), with a focus on Rymbu’s ingenious play on personal pronouns. Finally, it will briefly look at the role of social media for the literary process in Russia, specifically the field of poetry.