This essay explores a body of 340 poems created by political prisoners who were accused of and imprisoned for anti-state activity in late 1940s and 1950s Stalinist Poland. Evaluating prison poetry as a historical source, I understand the process of composing a poem as the result of a prisoner’s need to document the world around her/himself, as a psychological activity that contained diffi cult prison experiences, as a negotiation of emotional and often conflicting states, and as a social practice through which prison poets affected themselves and the people around them. Situated somewhere at the intersection of the personal and political, poetry became one of the most powerful sites of resistance. In addition to evaluating prison poetry as a historical source, this essay also explores gender differences and similarities in the body of 340 poems discussed here and in the social function of the prison poems.
The Poetry of Male and Female Political Prisoners in Postwar Poland
This article analyzes the Gulag memoirs of four women political prisoners—Olga Adamova-Sliozberg, Liudmila Miklashevskaya, Nadezhda Joffe, and Valentina Grigorievna levleva-Pavlenko—to examine the interplay of motherhood and survival. Each was a mother of small children sentenced to forced labor camps in the northern polar regions of the Soviet Union. Motherhood played a complex role in their survival. The rupture in family relations, particularly the separation from their children, magnified the psychological and emotional stress of their incarceration. Yet, being a mother in the camps provided a compelling motivation to stay alive. It helped them to sustain a sense of normalcy by connecting them to their former lives and to the family unit that represented stability and sustenance amid the bleakness of their Gulag existence.