In March 1983, on her 29th birthday, the Russian poet, Irina Ratushinskaya, received a seven year prison sentence for expressing ‘anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda’ in her verse. Undaunted, she continued writing poems in prison, aware of the possibility of yet more serious danger and punishment. She wrote, in minute handwriting, on tiny scraps of paper, anything available, and gradually the verses were smuggled out of the prison camp. Later they were gathered into a collection called Pencil Letter.
In Song of the Mice, which comes from this anthology, the mother mouse sings a tender lullaby to her little one suggesting dreams of sweet things, of a sleepy crust of bread. But she also tells her baby mouse to leave ‘Daddy Cat’ to her and not to make a sound for fear of attracting the ‘Bogey Man’ which symbolises the repressive Russian regime. There is always an underlying sense of real fear and unease in the poem.
The soprano, Donna Lennard, and pianist, Gavin Roberts, have devised a series of online concerts and interviews with composers entitled Songs and Sounds.