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Discovering Freedom Under Siege: the Leningrad Poet Olga Berggolts – talk by Prof Katharine Hodgson
Wednesday 1 March, 2017, 18:30 - 20:00
As a poet and Communist Party member whose career began in the 1930s, Berggolts was familiar with the constraints of censorship and self-censorship. She experienced a spell of imprisonment in the late 1930s, and the wartime Siege of Leningrad, episodes which had much in common: spatial confinement, deprivation and danger, together with uncertainty about how long the ordeal would last, and how it would end. In her writing about both prison and the Siege, she developed a creative response to being confined in space, describing moments in which the temporal boundaries of past, present, and future vanished, allowing her to move freely in her imagination through time. Berggolts noted the close connection between her experience of captivity in prison and under siege, and in both cases found a sense of purpose as a poet in recording and remembering the experiences that she shared with many others. When she wrote about the Siege, however, Berggolts was able to speak directly to an audience about their ordeal (her prison poems could not appear until much later). She was determined to be ‘faithful to the facts’ of the Siege, and constantly pushed at the boundaries of what could be said in public, steering a course between the reality of the Siege and sanitised heroic representations of it. Her Siege diary, published in full in 2015, shows that she was well aware of what life and death in the city were like. It also shows her frustration over censorship restrictions.
Berggolts’s writing will be discussed both in the context of poetry by other authors written during the Siege, her diary accounts from 1941-44, and her autobiographical prose in order to explore the paradoxical freedom she encountered, as well as the sometimes almost overwhelming sense of captivity in both space and time.
Katherine Hodgson is an Associate Professor in Russian at the University of Exeter and the author of The Twentieth-Century Russian Poetry Canon and Post-Soviet National Identity with Smith A, (Peter Lang, 2017), Voicing the Soviet Experience: the Poetry of Olga Berggolts, (British Academy, 2003), Written with the Bayonet: Soviet Russian Poetry of World War Two, (Liverpool University Press, 1996), Reconfiguring the Canon of Twentieth-Century Russian Poetry, (Open Book Publishers).