A Riot of Pussy poetry!

Sophie Mayer introduces ebook Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot, an international anthology available from English PEN. It’s been assembled in three weeks to celebrate Pussy Riot and raise awareness of the band’s appeal against their conviction on Monday 1st October

I’ve got the vagina your mother told you about

& it’s coming for you so watch out –

Sophie Robinson’s poem ‘Free Pussy’ appeared on the English PEN Campaigns blog on Thursday 27 September: one of 45 poems posted there that have been written in support of Pussy Riot, accompanied by photos of their writers in balaclavas – or with knickers on their heads.

From Robinson’s Faster, Pussycat, Kill! Kill!-style guerrilla vagina to invocations of rebel girls from Salomé to Huggy Bear via Anna Akhmatova and Sylvia Pankhurst, the poems play fast and loose with feminist history and heroines in salute of Pussy Riot members Maria Alyokhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezha Tolokonnikova, sentenced to two years in prison for performing their punk prayer in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour:

The trio will launch an appeal against their conviction on Monday 1 October, amid concerns that they are to be separated and sent to penal colonies. In support of their appeal, and freedom of expression, on the same day English PEN will stage a peaceful poetic protest, from 11am to 1pm, outside the Russian Consulate in London: join us (with your balaclava).

robertson photo.jpg

Several of the poets who contributed to the PEN blog will be reading to mark the launch of the free ebook anthology Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot. Edited by poets Mark Burnhope, Sarah Crewe and I, it’s a cornucopia of contestatory voices, disreputable women and riot grrrrls speaking in tongues. 110 poets ponied up in just under three weeks, contacting us via Twitter, Facebook and the PEN blog to donate their words and images for Pussy Riot.

Some fabulous well-known British feminist writers sent us poems: Jay Griffiths, current Booker Prize nominee Deborah Levy and Ali Smith. Feminist performance poets from up and down the country – Sarah Thomasin, Chella Quint, Anna Percy/Stirred Poetry, The Vaginellas, and Dublin’s Poetry Divas – got in touch with poems and videos, including Ana Pulteney and her riotous band performing their Pussy Riot Rap in their church in Totnes, with the support of their vicar.

Contemporary poetry turns out to be alive, political, and gleefully rude: whether it’s Jennifer Cooke’s smutty puns on Putin’s name, or Karen Press’ cunt-tastic erasures of women’s history classic, Susannah Moodie’s Roughing it in the Bush.

Here’s a taster of the free pussy poetry to come: The F-Word contributor Selina Robertson (also in the picture above) channels celebrated cat-lover Gertrude Stein:

a pussy is a riot is a rose is a riot is a rose is a pussy is a riot.

So watch out for Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot, available free from www.englishpen.org on Monday 1 October – and keep your pussy rioting for freedom of expression around the world.

The image of Selina Robertson of Club des Femmes, wearing knickers on her head in solidarity with Pussy Riot, courtesy of Selina.