‘Poet of the world’ calls Columbus home, for a while (Columbus and the Valley magazine, Nov-Dec 2013)
by Jim Lynn
Moscow winters are frigid. And Anzhelina Polonskaya hates the cold.
“I love heat,” Polonskaya says, gesturing outward with both hands. A noted Russian poet who hasn’t followed the well-worn path of traditional Russian literature, Polonskaya is this year’s Marguerite and Lamar Smith Fellow, a position awarded by the Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians of Columbus State University.
Sitting outside the Carson McCullers home on a recent evening, the setting sun prompts her to squint, but she seems to welcome the chance to sit in the sunlight nonetheless. In conversation, through her thick Russian accent, it becomes clear that it’s not just the weather that makes her feel at odds with her country.
“I can’t write at home,” she says. “There are many, many political problems, and the environment around me is not very quiet. At night, I write, and at night I can’t write and think about my motherland, and people who are in jail.”
Polonskaya is a member of the Russian PEN-centre, a group of writers publicly critical of the government on human rights issues. A recent statement from the group opposed the prosecution of a punk rock band on “hooliganism” charges.
“Our country doesn’t change a lot,” she said. “You can buy glamorous things now, if you have the money. But people are like they’re looking for a new Stalin. It’s very sad in a way, very sad, but true.”
Columbus is a far different world.
“I came here and in the first week I told them I was very happy I’m here, I’m very relaxed and I can do what I want to do,” she said. “I lived in Russia for the last year, but I need privacy…. If you open your mouth and talk about the regime very loud it could be everything. You could expect two guys knocking at your door and you’re arrested, particularly if you’re a public person or a writer. It’s very, very sad. You can’t imagine; being here, you just have no idea.”
Polonskaya’s poetry deals with themes of loss and sadness. Of war, both literal and emotional. “We are in what seems a permanent war with Chechnya,” she says, but in some ways the turmoil is as much her own
… Eye to eye—
Believe what you see:
The snow’s within me, not outside.
“I’ve been asked, ‘why is your work so dark?’” she says. “It’s not dark, but there is a sadness. It’s my point of view of live. Life is tough. You can find happy poets.”
Born in 1969, she began writing at 7 years old. “I never had a mentor; I just read a lot of literature,” she explains. “After so long, I finally found my own voice in poetry. I think my poetry is a mixture of Russian traditional poetry plus European poetry, plus something else, maybe my own.”
Columbus State professor Nick Norwood says Polonskaya writes in what is known as “the international style.” And the content resonates in any language. “Her subject is the human condition, especially loneliness, alienation, and psychic and emotional pain,” he said. “And so it doesn’t matter where the reader is from; everyone can relate to what her poems are about.”
A group of 10 poems about the sea was brought together – Polonskaya draws her hands together as if shaping a ball of clay – in 2011 to form the oratorio “Kursk,” about the 500-foot Russian submarine of the same name that sank in 2000, killing all 118 on board. “Kursk” debuted in Melbourne, but Polonskaya says the production cannot be presented in Russia. More than that, she feels she cannot even publish poetry in Russia because of the requiem.
The poems had been previously published, but in the context of the Kursk, they became seditious. “The regime didn’t like it because it reminded people,” she said. “But people should remember. They should know about the submarine that sank.”
Her poetry has been published in numerous international and American journals. Collections have been published in two books, “Paul Klee’s Boat” and “A Voice.”
Polonskaya is calling Columbus home through December. She has a public reading of her work on November 21 at the Columbus Public Library.
She is a nomadic poet. While the content of her work is influenced by the harshness of Russian life, oddly enough it’s the harshness of Russian life that keeps her at exile. She sees herself in some ways less a “Russian poet” and more “a poet of the world.” She has multiple fellowships lined up to keep herself in environments conducive to creativity, which she says Malakhovka, her home community just outside Moscow, is not.
After Columbus, she has a similar fellowship in Switzerland. Then Orlando. “It’s warm there,” she says.