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Free Verse Was Doubly Forbidden: Kirill Medvedev Provokes on Behalf of ‘Pussy Riot’

By Harriet Staff

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Robert Baird of the New Yorker documents Kirill Medvedev’s conflict with police at Pussy Riot’s pre-trial hearing:

One bright April day last year, the Russian poet Kirill Medvedev visited the Tagansky District Court, in Moscow. Inside the building, in a courtroom crowded with press, a pretrial hearing for the radical art-rock band Pussy Riot was getting under way. Activists had planned a concert to protest the proceedings, and Medvedev, who belonged to a militant folk band named for the socialist poet Arkady Kots, had come to Tagansky to play.

When it became clear that authorities would not allow the concert to take place, Medvedev and a bandmate began an impromptu performance. They sang a couple of songs and traded jokes with a small crowd that had gathered to watch. (“Which one of you is Arkady? Which is Kots?” “We take turns.”) When the police arrived to arrest him, Medvedev had just enough time to hand his guitar to a bystander before he was dragged off to a waiting paddy wagon.

After the two members of Arkady Kots were taken away, a reporter observing the scene asked a policeman what crime the musicians had committed. The officer replied that protests outside courthouses were illegal. “So you’d detain people for reciting poems?” the reporter asked.

“For poems as well—for any unsanctioned actions.”

“Is it permitted to converse in prose?”

“Prose is allowed.”

“What about unrhymed free verse?”

This last question apparently puzzled the policeman into silence. But activists who overhead the conversation suggested that, “given the political situation, free verse was doubly forbidden.”

I met Medvedev not long ago, at a brick-walled diner near the Barclay’s Center, in Brooklyn. He was visiting the U.S. to promote “It’s No Good,” an English-language selection of his poems and essays published by n+1 and Ugly Duckling Presse. Nearing forty, he is going bald on top, though his black hair gathers strength as it moves down the back of his head. He wore layered T-shirts and green leather sneakers, and except for his teeth—which looked dark and damaged, a startling sight here in what Joseph Brodsky called “the country of dentists”—he was indistinguishable from the Sunday-morning-hangover crowd that sat slumped over their eggs and iPhones.

Continue reading at the New Yorker.

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Posted in Poetry News on Tuesday, October 1st, 2013 by Harriet Staff.