Written in the Dark and Brought to Light: Afterlives of the Siege Poetry

Monday, October 15, 2018
6:00pm - 7:00pm
Ella Weed Room, 223 Milbank Hall, Barnard College

Please join the Barnard and Columbia Slavic Departments and the Harriman Institute for a talk with Polina Barskova (Hampshire College), a Russian-language poet and American scholar of the Siege of Leningrad (1941-1944).

In this lecture, Polina Barskova will consider intersections in her creative and scholarly work. Written in the Dark: Five Poets in the Siege of Leningrad (Ugly Duckling Press, 2016), an anthology that she edited recently, presents a group of writers and a literary phenomenon that has been unknown even to Russian readers for seventy years, obfuscated by historical amnesia. Gennady Gor, Pavel Zaltsman, Dmitry Maksimov, Sergey Rudakov, and Vladimir Sterligov, wrote these works in 1942, during the most severe winter of the Nazi Siege of Leningrad. In striking contrast to state-sanctioned, heroic "Blockade" poetry in which the stoic body of the exemplary citizen triumphs over death, the poems gathered here show the Siege individual (blokadnik) as a weak and desperate incarnation of Job. These poets wrote in situ about the famine disease, madness, cannibalism, and prostitution around them—subjects so tabooed in those most-Soviet times that they would never think of publishing. Moreover, the formal ambition and macabre avant-gardism of this uncanny body of work match its horrific content, giving birth to a "poor" language which alone could reflect the depth of suffering and psychological destruction experienced by victims of that historical disaster.

Focusing on this work, Barskova will talk about the Siege of Leningrad as a site of terrific (and terrifying) creative intensity and a constant impulse of inspiration for her own writing.

Professor Barskova is the first speaker in a new series at Barnard entitled "The Creative and Scholarly Women of Slavic Literature," which highlights connections between the creative and scholarly work of women in the field of Slavic literature. There is a venerable tradition in Russian history of academics or scholars who are also, or even primarily, authors of creative work. Although it is rarely done, a series that reunites the two activities of creative and scholarly output is, therefore, a natural approach. With the exclusive focus on women, the series will probe the idea of ‘women’s prose’ as a distinct sub-genre of Slavic literature, to examine and challenge the notion of a woman’s voice as unique.

Please contact Holly Myers (hmyers@barnard.edu) with any questions.