Ales Rasanau was born in 1947 in Syalez, a village in Belarus, in the furthest reaches of Brest. He was only fourteen when he penned his first poems. He studied philology in Minsk before being expelled from the university in 1968 for protesting against the policy of Russification. Thanks to the intervention of well-known Belorussian writers he was able to complete his studies in Brest, and later held various posts including one at a foundry, as a secondary school teacher, as a text editor for a publishing house and as literary editor for several newspapers.
Since 1970 Rasanau has published more than ten volumes of poems that have been translated into over twenty languages. He has also made a name for himself as a translator of Lithuanian, Bulgarian and, in particular, Georgian poetry. His first volume included programmatic texts about the »Rebirth« (a literal translation of its title »Adradzennie«) of Belorussian poetry. These texts could only appear in severely censored versions due to the Soviet Union’s policy of repressing that language. It was the poet’s aim, however, not only to follow on from suppressed traditions, but also to create new forms. In one of his many reflections on poetics in the collection »Gnomische Zeichen« (t: Gnomic Symbols) he writes: »A poem must be both a message and an innovation, and must lead away from the established state of things.« Rasanau’s new poetic forms include »Punktierungen« (dottings) – three- to eight-part poems without headings – and »versettes« – ballad-like, often dramatically climaxed prose pieces of around one page. These and the epically singular »Poeme« (poems) lend the volume »Zeichen vertikaler Zeit« (1995; t: Symbols of vertical time) a fascinating appeal. Rasanau’s »Word Verses« alone, in which he examines »the complete phonetic (and etymological) field of certain words in which he finds the keywords of human existence«, defy translation, as his editor Norbert Randow has commented.
In 1990 Rasanau was awarded the Yanka Kupala Prize, the national prize for Belorussian literature. However, his commitment to the Belorussian language was only briefly recognized by the officials. Shortly thereafter the pro-Russian politics of the dictator Lukashenko was again to make him a dissident. His works were censored or simply never published. He was chief editor of the literary journal »Krynica« (Wells) until 1999 but left the post due to political pressures, accepting invitations to go abroad to Germany, Austria, Finland, Sweden and Slovenia, among other countries. In 2001 he moved to Hanover, one of several cities that belongs to a network supporting writers suffering danger and censorship (»Cities of Asylum«). He became the first recipient of Hanover’s newly established Hannah Arendt scholarship. He spent 2003 in Graz as a guest of the Culture and Human Rights grant »City of Asylum«. Publications including »Hannoversche Punktierungen« (2002; t: Hanoverian dottings) and »Wortdichte« (2003; t: Word density) have emerged from these various residencies. Rasanau is currently a guest of the Artists-in-Berlin programme of the German Academic Exchange Service.
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